Chief Executive-elect John Lee Ka-chiu has opened up about his efforts to select ministers, revealing some candidates approached were deterred by possible foreign sanctions, while he had to turn down other names put forward to him. Lee on Sunday confirmed on a radio programme he had someone in mind for the chief secretary position, the city’s No 2 spot, but declined to divulge a name as he did not want to put the individual under pressure. He also vowed to improve coordination among top officials and the measuring of public sentiment. With less than seven weeks before he is sworn in as chief executive on July 1, Lee said he had yet to make a final decision on the composition of his team, as he was forming a candidate list and in discussion with colleagues. He noted that the ministers would face different challenges ahead, as they needed to get around foreign sanctions. “They will face different pressures, given the complexities in international relations. Hong Kong has often become the target of US-China relations,” Lee said, adding some people might have reservations about joining his team. “There is a little effect [from the possible sanctions]. But most of them seem to be passionate about this. I am happy to see that. “Although some candidates are also talented, their areas of expertise are not aligned with my policy directions. This is also one of the considerations.” He added he would set key performance indicators on different projects, with priority on his new “mobilisation protocol” for emergencies, and a programme to ease cross-generational poverty involving 1,000 students living in subdivided flats. “We need to be selective, as I do not want to see us overwhelmed by KPIs,” he said. “The focus will be on different projects, instead of individuals.” Lee also said he valued team spirit and would strive to form a unit that would supplement one another, with the focus on forming strategies and long-term plans. Why picking a Hong Kong leader under US sanctions may be part of Beijing’s game plan Asked whether he would prefer disciplined service officers to take up senior management positions, the former police officer turned top bureaucrat said he would not focus on the background of candidates but their capability, belief and experience. It was expected that Lee would pick outsiders with specific expertise to be appointed as ministers, instead of promoting administrative officers from the elite top level of civil servants. When asked how many incumbent ministers would stay for another five-year term, Lee did not answer but said that he had always had a good relationship with administrative officers. He also hinted at his intention to revive the Central Policy Unit, a government think tank, as well as to add deputies to bureaus, but said the decision would require discussion in the Executive Council, the city leader’s de facto cabinet. “In policy analysis and policymaking, it would be great if we could understand public sentiment from a non-government perspective. I will arrange a set-up for this,” he said. “I was also very busy when I was chief secretary. For example, I always had meetings with a dozen committees … It would be good if we could strengthen the coordination capabilities [of the secretaries].” Who is John Lee? People recall growing up with future Hong Kong leader Lee previously said he was inclined to adopt a sweeping government restructuring plan drawn up by incumbent leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to reorganise bureaus and focus on issues such as housing. The restructure also includes adding two more bureaus to make 15 in total, and strengthening the city’s No 2 and 3 positions with deputies. Lee will also need to find capable leaders to oversee new and important bureaus such as housing, culture and tourism, as well as education and home affairs, all areas ripe for reform. At a declaration signing later in the day to confirm non-affiliation to any political party, Lee was asked about top government pandemic adviser Gabriel Leung’s warning on Saturday that Hong Kong could be hit by a sixth wave of coronavirus infections in as little as two weeks. The chief executive-elect said he was confident authorities would be up to the task. “I believe that the current administration will handle this well. My office will be in close communication with the Chief Executive’s Office on the arrangement of handover anniversary activities,” he said, referring to the July 1 date marking Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule 25 years ago. Political analyst Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said he believed Lee had to be careful in recruiting new ministers. “It would be better if the team was less prone to sanctions and threats from the US and foreign countries,” he said. “The team would not be fully committed to the central government if they were easily affected by other counterparts.” Fear of sanctions brought both advantages and disadvantages for Lee’s team, he argued. While authorities might lose some talent due to possible penalties, those people could take up other roles such as joining advisory committees to contribute to government policy. Lee was among 11 Beijing and Hong Kong officials sanctioned by Washington in August 2020 over what it decried as their role to “undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and restrict the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong” after a national security law was imposed in 2020. During Lee’s leadership bid in April, Google terminated his YouTube channel, citing compliance with United States sanction laws. At the declaration signing, Lee did not say if he would be travelling to Beijing to receive a certificate of appointment from state leaders. The signing by Lee later in the day took place in front of the media in the lobby of Wan Chai’s Immigration Tower, where his office is located. Under Hong Kong law, winners of the chief executive election must “publicly make a statutory declaration” to indicate they are not a member of a political party within seven days of the poll. Asked by reporters at the event if he expected to receive a certificate of appointment from Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, he said he believed an announcement would be made by the central government. Former constitutional and mainland affairs minister Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, who was in charge of Lee’s campaign, witnessed the signing.