Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she would quit her job if she had a choice, according to an audio recording of remarks she made last week to a group of businesspeople.
- Ms Lam was quoted from a 24-minute recording of a private meeting with businesspeople
- She said China had did not plan to deploy People’s Liberation Army troops in Hong Kong
- A spokesman for Ms Lam declined to comment on the content of the recording
At the closed-door meeting, Ms Lam told the group that she now has “very limited” room to resolve the crisis because the unrest has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid rising tensions with the US.
“If I have a choice,” she said, speaking in English, “the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”
Hong Kong has been convulsed by sometimes violent protests and mass demonstrations since June, in response to a proposed law by Ms Lam’s administration that would allow people suspected of crimes on the mainland to be extradited to face trial in Chinese courts.
Leader laments pushing extradition bill
At the meeting last week, Ms Lam said the extradition bill was her doing and was meant to “plug legal loopholes in Hong Kong’s system”.
“This is not something instructed, coerced by the central government,” she said.
She expressed deep regrets about her push to pass the bill.
“This has proven to be very unwise given the circumstances,” she said.
“And this huge degree of fear and anxiety amongst people of Hong Kong vis-a-vis the mainland of China, which we were not sensitive enough to feel and grasp.”
Students strike on the first day of school at the Chinese University in Hong Kong on Monday. (AP: Vincent Yu)
The law has been shelved, but Ms Lam has been unable to end the upheaval.
Protesters have expanded their demands to include complete withdrawal of the proposal, a concession her administration has so far refused.
Large demonstrations wracked the city again over the weekend.
Room for political manoeuvring ‘very, very, very limited’
Ms Lam said Beijing had not imposed any deadline for ending the crisis ahead of National Day celebrations scheduled for October 1.
And she said China had “absolutely no plan” to deploy People’s Liberation Army troops on Hong Kong streets.
World leaders have been closely watching whether China will send in the military to quell the protests, as it did a generation ago in the bloody Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.
Ms Lam noted, however, that she had few options once an issue had been elevated “to a national level,” a reference to the leadership in Beijing, “to a sort of sovereignty and security level, let alone in the midst of this sort of unprecedented tension between the two big economies in the world.”
In such a situation, she added: “the room, the political room for the Chief Executive who, unfortunately, has to serve two masters by constitution, that is the central people’s government and the people of Hong Kong, that political room for manoeuvring is very, very, very limited”.
Three people who attended the meeting confirmed that Ms Lam had made the comments in a talk that lasted about half an hour.
A 24-minute recording of her remarks was obtained by Reuters.
The meeting was one of several “closed-door sessions” that Ms Lam said she has been doing “with people from all walks of life” in Hong Kong.
Responding to Reuters, a spokesman for Ms Lam said she attended two events last week that included members of the business community, and that both were effectively private.
“We are therefore not in a position to comment on what the Chief Executive has said at those events,” the spokesman said.
China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, a high-level agency under China’s cabinet, the State Council, did not respond to questions submitted by Reuters.
China’s State Council Information Office did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.
Ms Lam said being unable to relieve the tension in Hong Kong was her “biggest sadness”. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)
Lam ‘can’t go to a hair salon’
While Ms Lam said that now was not the time for “self-pity”, she spoke about her profound frustration with not being able “to reduce the pressure on my frontline police officers,” or to provide a political solution to “pacify the large number of peaceful protesters who are so angry with the government, with me in particular.”
Her inability “to offer a political situation in order to relieve the tension,” she said, was the source of her “biggest sadness”.
She spoke about the impact the crisis has had on her daily life.
“Nowadays it is extremely difficult for me to go out,” she said.
“I have not been on the streets, not in shopping malls, can’t go to a hair salon.
“I can’t do anything because my whereabouts will be spread around social media.”
If she were to appear in public, she said, “you could expect a big crowd of black T-shirts and black-masked young people waiting for me”.
Many of the protesters wear black at demonstrations.
The police, she said, would continue to arrest those responsible for “this escalating violence,” a group that the government initially estimated numbered between 1,000 and 2,000.
It would be “naive,” she said, to “paint you a rosy picture, that things will be fine”.
She did, however, express hope in the city’s ultimate “resurrection.”
“Hong Kong is not dead yet,” she said.
“Maybe she is very, very sick, but she is not dead yet.”