Hong Kong protests: Carrie Lam denies offering to resign
Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam has said that she has never offered to step down, a day after an audio recording emerged of her saying she would quit if she had “a choice”.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Lam did not deny veracity of the audio, but told reporters: “I have never tendered resignation to the central people’s government. I have not even contemplated tendering resignation ... The choice of not resigning is my own choice.” She added: “The reason being I believe I can lead my team to come out of this impasse.”
Her comments came less than 24 hours after a leaked audio recording, obtained by Reuters, was published. In it, the chief executive can be heard saying she was “very, very limited” in how her government could respond to the mass protests that began in June over a proposal to allow extradition to mainland China.
“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable. If I have a choice, the first thing [I would do] is to quit, having made a deep apology,” Lam is heard saying in the recording.
The remarks suggested Beijing has been directing the Hong Kong government’s response to months of mass protests that have plunged the semi-autonomous territory into its worst political crisis since it was returned to Chinese control in 1997.
Over the last three months of protests, which began over a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China and has since turned into a broader democracy movement that has challenged Beijing’s authority over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office did not address the recording and reiterated its support of Lam. Spokesman Yang Guang condemned the protesters and accused some of trying to launch a “colour revolution” to establish Hong Kong independence.
“From their faces, we can see four words. On the left: oppose China. And on the right: ‘Hong Kong independence,’ he said. “Hong Kong’s sovereignty belongs to China and to the 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
Referring to one of the slogans of the protest, “If we burn, you burn with us,” Yang said: “I don’t know how you feel, but I distinctly smell terror and madness.”
In July, a month after protests began, Lam shelved the controversial bill, proclaiming it “dead”. But demonstrators, fearing the bill could be revived, have continued to protest and demand its permanent withdrawal. Lam has refused the protesters other demands, which include launching an inquiry into police behaviour toward protesters and implementing direct elections.
Reuters reported earlier this month that Beijing had refused a proposal to de-escalate the crisis, ordering Lam not to concede to any demands, even more politically palatable ones such as a formal withdrawal of the bill and police inquiry.
In the press conference, Lam called the leak “very inappropriate” and said was attempting to offer the perspective of “an individual” where resigning “might be an easy choice.”
“But I told myself repeatedly in past months that I and my team should stay on to help Hong Kong. That is my decision. I know it is not going to be an easy path.”
The press conference comes as Hong Kong braces for another day of protests, after a weekend of some of the most intense clashes of the last three months.
On Tuesday, riot police patrolled the city as protesters vowed to come out again and students continued a class boycott that started on Monday. In a video posted online, police were seen chasing secondary school students and tackling one to the ground.
More than 200 students and alumni of the the Church of Christ in China Ming Yin College formed a human chain around the school chanting: “Reclaim Hong Kong!” The group scattered after a report that police were coming to the scene, according to public broadcaster RTHK.
Police, who have now arrested more than 1,000 people since June, detained several organisers, including student union president Keith Fong of Baptist University, who has been supportive of the boycott. Fong was detained Monday night for alleged theft while police arrested Ivan Lam, chairman of the pro-democracy political organisation Demosisto as he arrived at the Hong Kong airport on Tuesday morning.
Michael Mo, who helped organise marches in the New Territories, was detained at his home on suspicion of illegal assembly, according to a statement released by a friend.
As the protests continue with few signs of stopping, the government has hinted it could deploy an emergency ordinance that gives Lam sweeping powers to restore “public order”.
The colonial era law, last used to put down riots in 1967, mean the government could censor media and suppress communications, as well as arrest, detain, deport and search residents as it deems necessary.
Lam refused to rule out the use of the law, saying: “As a government we have the responsibility to see what we have in our existent law that can deal with the unrest. If the violence calms down then there would be no need to do this.”
Lily Kuo y Verna Yu