Chinese leaders reiterate support for Hong Kong leader amid protests
HONG KONG, Kyodo - Chinese leaders on Monday reiterated China's support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and her administration and praised her handling of the territory during trying times.
At a meeting mostly closed to media coverage, President Xi Jinping said Lam, who was on a yearly duty visit to Beijing, has been dutiful, putting in a lot of hard work as the former British colony endures its harshest time since returning to Chinese rule in 1997, according to local media reports.
"This year has been the gravest and most complicated one since Hong Kong's return to the motherland, facing all sorts of difficulties and pressure," Xi said. "Chief Executive Lam has managed to hold firm to the 'one country, two systems' principle, administered according to law and she's carried out her duties with dedication having done a lot of hard work."
Without specifically mentioning the ongoing anti-government protests, Xi said Lam has led her government in responding to pressing social issues, imposing a series of policies to assist businesses, finding answers to people's needs and solving deep-rooted problems in society.
"The central authorities highly appreciate the courage and dedication shown by Lam in this critical moment for Hong Kong."
"I already stated the central authorities' position and approach toward Hong Kong's situation (last month), on three unwavering dedications -- to safeguard national sovereignty, safety and developmental interests, to implement the 'one country, two systems' principle and to oppose any foreign interference in Hong Kong's affairs," Xi said.
He also restated China's support for Lam and the government in running Hong Kong and the strict law enforcement efforts shown by police. He says he hopes that people from all walks of life can unite to get Hong Kong back on track.
Massive protests against the bill, which would have facilitated fugitive transfers to mainland China for trial had it become law, have been ongoing since June despite the complete withdrawal of the bill in October.
The protests, which have sometimes ended in violent clashes with police and have put a spotlight on Chinese rule in Hong Kong, have presented the Beijing-backed government with its biggest challenge since the handover.
Earlier Monday, Lam also met with Premier Li Keqiang, who, unlike Xi, clearly talked about the extradition bill, saying China offers its unwavering support to Lam's government in handling the saga and the gloomy economy, local Hong Kong media reported.
"The lingering amendment bill saga has brought harmful consequences to the Hong Kong society," Li told Lam as they met in the Great Hall of the People.
"Hong Kong's economy has clearly shown a downward trend, bringing serious damage to multiple sectors and an unprecedented grave and complicated situation to Hong Kong," Li said, while at the same time praising Lam for leading her administration in protecting enterprises and stabilizing employment.
"Hong Kong is not yet out of the woods. The government needs to continue tackling violence and chaos, restoring order and swiftly get to work on a series of deep-rooted problems amid Hong Kong's economic and social development, maintaining Hong Kong's long term prosperity and stability."
Lam, meanwhile, said the first signs of a slowdown in the economy started showing up in the first half this year, placing the blame partly on the protracted U.S.-China trade war.
In a news briefing after the meeting, Lam said she felt encouraged after the leaders showed appreciation of her handling of the social unrest.
"The two leaders did endorse the efforts made by the (Hong Kong government) and myself in trying to end the violence," Lam told the press. "Given the severity of the situation and the difficulty we are facing, I can say that the leaders are fully appreciative of the efforts needed in order to achieve the objective (of ending violence)."
"I hope very much that Hong Kong people will help the (government) in supporting the police in achieving this mission," she said.
Lam did not go into further detail about issues discussed in the meeting, including whether state leaders urged for a national security law to be enacted under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the territory's mini-constitution, or whether a cabinet reshuffle for Lam's ministers over the bill saga was in order.
Lam is due to return to Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Her meeting with the Chinese leaders followed the latest round of demonstrations late Sunday, when protesters, who blocked roads and set barricades on fire in Kowloon's Mong Kok area, were met with tear gas and pepper spray as police tried to get them to disperse.
Hong Kong police said 31 people were arrested during the clashes on streets and also in shopping malls, where shops and restaurants with Chinese ties were vandalized in protests earlier Sunday.
More than half of the arrested were students, which is a disturbing sign, police said. (Kyodo)