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Hong Kong’s leader told businesses what she’s done to the city is “unforgivable”

Her hands are tied.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s troubled top official, said that she had wreaked “unforgivable havoc” by unleashing a political crisis that has raged on for weeks with no end in sight, and that she would quit if she had a choice, according to leaked audio published by Reuters of remarks she made in a closed-door lunch meeting with business leaders.

“If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology,” she said in the 24-minute recording obtained and reviewed by Reuters.

Speaking in English, her voice at times quivering with emotion, Lam acknowledged that she had  “very, very, very limited” room for political maneuvering and solving the crisis, in large part because as chief executive she ultimately “has to serve two masters by constitution, that is the central people’s government and the people of Hong Kong.”

Protests have been continuing in Hong Kong since June 9, when a million people marched to demand the retraction of an extradition bill that would have allowed people from the territory to be sent to the mainland to face trial, jeopardizing the territory’s legal autonomy enshrined as part of its 1997 return to Chinese rule. The protests have since broadened to include other demands, including electing the city’s leader democratically.

Lam added that further constraints on her ability to resolve the crisis include the backdrop of the ongoing US-China trade war, and the fact that the Hong Kong situation has been elevated “to a level national” involving matters of “sovereignty and security.”

Lam also insisted that there are no plans for China to send its military into Hong Kong to end the protests, or that there is even a “deadline” for ending the crisis ahead of October 1, which marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“They know that the price would be too huge to pay,” Lam said of speculation of Chinese troop deployments into Hong Kong.

Addressing the media today (Sep. 3) in her weekly press conference before a cabinet meeting, Lam appeared to confirm the veracity of the leaked audio recording, saying she was “very disappointed” withe the “very inappropriate” disclosure of private, closed-door remarks, in breach of Chatham House rules.

She also repeatedly said that she had never sent an actual letter of resignation to her bosses in Beijing. “I have never tendered a resignation to the central people’s government,” she said. “I have never even contemplated a resignation…the choice of not resigning is my own choice.”

When asked whether her leaked comments effectively suggest that Hong Kong’s supposed high degree of autonomy, as enshrined in its mini constitution, is virtually non-existent, Lam did not answer directly. Instead, she said that because she never intended for her remarks to be made public, “not every word contains meaning” and that it was pointless to pick over each and every word. Lam’s leaked comments follow a Reuters report last week that said the chief executive had recommended the full withdrawal of the now suspended extradition bill as a step to defuse the current crisis—a core demand of the protesters—but the idea was rejected.

Lam also said that she still has faith and confidence in her ability to lead Hong Kong out of its current situation, and asked for “tolerance” from the public over allegations of police’s abuse of force and power.

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