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YouTube terminates account for Hong Kong’s presumed next head of government

YouTube has blocked the campaign account of Hong Kong’s only candidate for the Special Administrative Region’s (SAR) head of government, John Lee Ka-chiu, citing US sanctions.

Lee was selected by Beijing and is almost certain to replace current HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam, another Chinese Communist Party pick, after a May 8 election. At the election, 1,454 members of a committee dominated by pro-Beijing politicians and tycoons votes.

Lee, often referred to as “Pikachu” by the Hong Kong anti-establishment faction as it sounds similar to “Lee Ka-chiu,” stepped down from his position as Secretary for Security in Hong Kong to run for the chief executive spot.

Lam announced earlier this month that she would not seek re-election for the closest position Hong Kong has to a head of state after a single term marred by mass protests, severe COVID restrictions, and the largest population decrease experienced in the SAR for 60 years.

Like Lee, Lam was also sanctioned in August 2020 by the United States Department of the Treasury at the direction of Donald Trump for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. The 11 people listed in the sanctions saw any assets in the US blocked and their financial transactions in the US criminalized.

According to a statement from the US Department of Treasury, Lee was sanctioned for “being involved in coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the authority of the National Security Law, as well as being involved in its development, adoption, or implementation.”

The document noted that Lee, a former police officer, introduced a new police unit dedicated to enforcing the Hong Kong National Security Law, inclusive of intelligence gathering and investigation capabilities. Those capabilities were used to crack down on pro-democracy protesters.

According to the US Department of the Treasury, Lam received her sanctions for “for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes.”

A spokesperson from YouTube’s parent company, Google, told The Register:

Lee, whose Facebook account still stands, albeit demonetized, wrote in Chinese on his remaining social media and election website: “The so-called sanctions imposed on me by the United States are bullying, and their unreasonable behavior will only make me more convinced that what I have done is right. I will ignore it and scoff at it.”

Of course, Beijing had its own thoughts on the matter. According to the South China Morning Post, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Google of helping the US government meddle in the affairs of other countries in a Thursday press conference.

Carrie Lam’s top advisor, Bernard Chan, called the situation “unfortunate,” an “isolated incident,” and unlikely to affect the election. He advocated against escalating.

While Google, Facebook, and other internet platforms are banned in mainland China, they remain free to use in Hong Kong. But for how long? ®