Defiant Hong Kong leader vows to stay on in wake of leaked recording

04, Sep. 2019

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HONG KONG, Kyodo - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday she has never offered to resign, and denied that China has not allowed her to quit over the anti-government protests that have disrupted the territory for several months.

Her remarks came in response to a media report late Monday, which was based on a secret recording made during a closed-door meeting she had with the business community last week.

During the audio recording, obtained and disclosed by Reuters news agency, Lam said she would quit if she had a choice.

“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” Lam said in English, during the recording. “If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”

At a regular press briefing before a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Lam acknowledged the recording's authenticity, but added it was unacceptable that “my remarks in a totally private, exclusive session” were recorded and provided to news media.

“From the very beginning till now, I have never tendered a resignation to the central people's government,” Lam added, referring to Beijing's government.

“I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation to the central people's government. The choice of not resigning is my own choice.”

Lam said she remains determined to lead Hong Kong out of the chaos in her role as chief executive. “As of today, I still have confidence and determination to finish the task.”

She also said her remarks during the meeting were meant to be private exchanges and not for public record, so the wording she used carried a different meaning.

Reuters said it obtained a 24-minute recording of her remarks during a talk with unidentified businesspeople lasting about half an hour.

In the recording, Lam was heard admitting that now the unrest -- which began over plans to introduce a China extradition bill -- has become a sovereignty and security issue for the Chinese government, the political room for her to maneuver “is very, very, very limited.”

But Lam said in that meeting Beijing has “absolutely no plan” to deploy the Chinese army in Hong Kong to help quell the protests, because “they know that the price would be too huge to pay.”

“They care about the country's international profile,” she added.

Lam also admitted it was her “biggest sadness” that she was unable to “offer a political situation in order to relieve the tension.”

Millions of protesters have taken to the streets since June, demanding the withdrawal of a bill that would allow fugitives to be transferred to mainland China, with which Hong Kong has no extradition agreement.

Amid popular opposition, Lam indefinitely suspended work on the bill in the territory's legislature. But her decision to suspend it rather than withdraw it has failed to stop the protests, which have, with increasing frequency, ended in violent clashes with police.

Protesters' demands have expanded to include an independent inquiry into police violence against them, amnesty for arrested protesters, and democratic reforms in the territory's elections.

At Tuesday's press briefing, Lam said she had tried to explain during the private meeting that “as an individual, given the very difficult circumstances, it might be an easy choice to leave.”

“But I told myself repeatedly in the last three months that I and my team should stay on to help Hong Kong...and to serve the people of Hong Kong.”

“That remains my position.”

She stressed Chinese authorities have so far entrusted the Hong Kong government to handle the situation without intervention from Beijing. “Worries about the loss of the one country, two systems principle are unfounded,” she said.

Hong Kong, the former British colony handed over to China in 1997, was promised a semiautonomous status that would last for 50 years under which all but diplomatic and defense matters remain local affairs. (Kyodo)