Hong Kong Chief Executive-designate John Lee Ka-chiu spoke on a wide range of topics when he sat down with the Post for an exclusive interview. Here is an edited transcript. ‘I am a pragmatic person’ You’re seen as a hardliner and ‘landmine detonator’. What landmines are you expecting? I describe myself as a pragmatic person: what needs to be done will be done and should be done. So, like Covid, there are difficult questions, but I have to face up to them. I don’t hide behind problems. It is better to face up to them so that I can design solutions. If you ask about what potential threats or risks there are likely to be, I think one is, because of the complexity of the geopolitical situation, the certainty of supplies, You can see the tensions in Ukraine. There are problems in different areas of supplies, including goods and necessities. We have to ensure that [if] these things do get worse, out of our control, we have a contingency plan to deal with it. But we are lucky because we have ‘one country, two systems’. So the contingency plan is not limited to just Hong Kong locally. The contingency plan can take advantage of what can be offered by the mainland authorities. Mobilise 5 per cent of civil servants in 24 hours in crisis What is so special about your team that you think you can make them achieve the results previous administrations have not been able to achieve? Well, first of all, I want to make it very clear that every government before my term, they tried their best to serve the interests of Hong Kong. So I will only talk about what I intend to do and what I believe I can do. I am a believer and practitioner of teamwork, because a single person can only do that much … and its only through synergising and allow each other to do their best so that one plus one will be greater than two, then you can really make real achievements. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, the team will be strong because we share the same belief. They all share my philosophy, which is, we must be result-oriented. We must ensure that we take care of each other, collaborate and synergise. Third, leaders are very important. I have said in my manifesto and in my description of governance, I expect leaders to come out to intervene early when they see a potential problem, so time will not be wasted, energy will be focused and also officials and civil servants will know very clearly what the goal is. Beijing’s targets for Hong Kong point to urgency, jurisdiction over city: analysts One thing very important is, Hong Kong government’s efficiency has been ranked either number one or number two over the years, so that means civil servants are efficient. So my goal is to realise their maximum potential and values. About my job, I asked myself, am I working with good or bad civil servants? The answer is crystal clear! They are good civil servants, because for two years or many years, they have been ranked number one and number two, in the category of governance efficiency, so they must be good. So why do we have problems previously? It was during crisis time. So crisis management is an area we need to strengthen. This is why I’ve said I will be looking at different contingency plans, ensure we have a high margin of safety, so that next time when it comes, it is not the safety margin that we’ll deal with normally, on a day-to-day basis. It will be a safety margin that we strongly believe can handle the crisis. That’s the first thing. The second thing is speed. Certainty is important. Rather than waiting to decide how many people I can call out to deal with this crisis, I already have a mechanism. That is why in my manifesto, I mentioned the need to create a crisis response mechanism. In 24 hours, I must have, say, 5 per cent of the whole government come out to do this or do that. That is certainty, and that is also speed. I think the Omicron attack has taught us a very strong lesson – certainty and speed are vital in fighting crisis. And also confidence is important, because if people see that there are wills and methods to deal with the crisis, then people will be less alarmed. And having an environment for us to do things that will deal with the matter without causing people to reject or worry too much about what will happen, is important. So messaging is important as well. A closer look at details of Hong Kong’s government revamp plan People ready to ‘say yes’ Are you easy to work with? Oh, I think so. I really think people find it not difficult to work with me. And one reason is, when I recruit people into my governing team, I feel that they’re very ready to say yes to me. There’re, of course, a lot of factors. First of all, they all have their passion to serve, and they also know that this five years will be a critical time for us to move forward so as to build Hong Kong strong again. They also see a lot of opportunities for them really to get results. So all these are the factors. I felt the interaction with the people I came across. They find the process enjoyable. Freedom means operating within the law Residents have expectations such as the preservation of the freedom that Hong Kong used to enjoy. How are you going to meet all those expectations? I tell you who protects your rights and freedoms. First, the law protects your rights and freedoms, right? OK, [say] I’m not confident how people apply the law, so what protects your rights and freedoms in that situation? The rule of law, the court. How do we rank Hong Kong in the rule of law? We are now 19. A lot of countries, including the US, are behind us. Are you worried about rights and freedoms in those countries? Our rule of law is highly regarded and protects the residents. That’s the first thing we need to tell people. That’s the first thing. So we need to tell people that this is exactly what I want my officials, myself and delegations from Hong Kong to go out and tell people. Yes, there are fearmongers. They tell you stories which, by repetition, even the untrue seems to be the true situation. We need to tell them that. The second thing is we need to build a consensus that freedom is not a blank cheque to contravene the law. Freedom means that everybody operates within the confines of the law so you can enjoy the maximum freedom. Otherwise, the weaker will be exploited by the stronger, not just physically, that they could beat you up, but both economically and politically. That is why we need to build the right culture of Hong Kong, the right values of Hong Kong. ‘I will face the housing problem’ Hong Kong’s biggest embarrassment on the international stage is housing. Are you going to be the chief executive who will finally solve this problem for us? I will be the chief executive who will face this problem directly and find the solutions to solve it in the long term, because we have to be realistic with what we are dealing with. It’s been many years that there have been shortages of supplies of public housing, and we have a deficit every year. So the deficits of supplies have been built up over many years. I know every government has been working hard to deal with it, but still, the number is just not sufficient. So what I have indicated in my manifesto and told my team is we have to, first of all, boost supply for land. And if you look at the 10 years forecast, in fact, the land has been found, but it takes time for the land to be ready, so that houses can be put on them and the houses built and then people can move in. Henderson Land backs John Lee’s housing and land supply pledge But it is undesirable that we leave it to such a long time. That is why I have asked my team and told the community that I will increase the speed, the efficiency and the quantity. Each step, each stage. Some people may say, OK, tell me, in one year, what can you do? I have to be pragmatic and tell people the truth, otherwise, it will be irresponsible, not to tell people the actual picture. I have to build up the numbers and it does take time, but I will do it fast. So I have introduced some new ideas. They may not be perfect solutions, obviously. They don’t address all the problems. But the purpose is to tell the community that I’m serious about this. I’m making for different ways, new innovative ways to address this problem so that even one month earlier, or two weeks earlier, which means a lot to the persons who want to change the environment. The second thing is I’m advocating doing it multi-prong, say the private sector, how can they cooperate. ‘I will tell state leaders, we are strong believers in ‘one country, two systems’’ What do you think should be the most important message you should convey to our state leaders? It is important to tell the leader, when I have the chance to meet them, that we are a strong believer and practitioner of ‘one country, two systems’, because that is the most important element for Hong Kong to continue to be stable and prosper. The second thing is my government will be willing to face up to the challenges that have been in existence for a long time. But I’m also pragmatic. So we will work hard to tackle the problems and we will tackle them step by step, so that eventually we will solve the problems. But how long will it take? I’ll try to make it short. But the plan and the direction is to solve the problems. ‘I fight and counter fearmongers’ Do you realistically believe you can fight and win the fearmongers you talked about? We will fight it and counter it. You have to be confident, but I think being proactive is better than being defensive. We should be proactive because we are the right side. I think that there is this so-called belief that if you repeat a lie frequently enough it becomes the truth, that is their way of making propaganda. So we have to fight against it. We have to tell people well, don’t fall into this trap. That is why it is important that we go out and let people see what Hong Kong is, and more importantly, when we allow, when we create more convenience for people to come to Hong Kong, they will see the real Hong Kong and then go back and explain, Hong Kong is actually a vibrant, liberal, liveable city and is inclusive, and I had such a good time while I was there. So that is what I will be doing. Chinese president praises Hong Kong’s incoming leader, predicts ‘new chapter’ ‘I will be open to everybody’ You mentioned ‘liberal’, but the opposition is practically non-existent, nobody’s protesting. When the pandemic is over, will these be allowed to return? Well, what is allowed under the law, of course, people can practice, but I must take on your point – opposition is allowed to exist in Hong Kong. The government has been criticised every now and then. Whoever decided to join in the political arena, it’s their own choice. But what is important is, they can’t contravene the law. They can’t commit anything to the detriment of national security and also the security of Hong Kong. If the people who have done such things decided not to take part, then yes, [it] is a way to comply with the law. Because, if they have another tendency of contravening the law [they] better don’t do it. So they [have] their own choice to come out. Will you resume dialogue with moderate pan-democrats? I will be open to everybody. I don’t want to be focused on any particular area. I will be talking to the ethnic minorities, I will be talking to the international community. I talk to all, whoever I deal with, I will watch whether they are the people who are the right persons that I will communicate with. ‘Hong Kong is inclusive, we welcome all’ In Hong Kong, we have the international community and ethic minorities among us. Do you have any messages for our investors and our ethnic minorities? For international friends and the ethnic minorities, Hong Kong is inclusive, Hong Kong welcomes all, it’s always a melting pot of cultures. It is a place where anybody will come and try to realise their dreams, and we have opportunities not just because of the competitiveness and the internal strengths of Hong Kong, but also because of our integration with the mainland, the Greater Bay Area (GBA) opportunities and the very strong commitment that we will be expanding our capacities into mainland GBA, as we will be forming joint development projects with the mainland. For example, when we talk about innovative research, and then marketing and commercialising the products, building the manufacturing chain, and the big market the mainland can offer – these are the attractions, so it’s not just Hong Kong itself. Of course for ethic minorities – always, we love them. I always say that this is the place where everybody lives to pursue their dreams as a member of the whole family. I will do anything that can promote that common belief.