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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says she never asked Beijing to let her resign

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she has never asked the Chinese government to let her resign to end the city's political crisis, responding to a Reuters report about a voice recording of her saying she would step down if she could.

'A contradiction that I really want to quit but I cannot quit does not exist,' Lam says

'I have not even contemplated discussing a resignation to the Central People's Government,' Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a news conference on Tuesday. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she has never asked the Chinese government to let her resign to end the city's political crisis, responding to a Reuters report about a voice recording of her saying she would step down if she could.

China has expressed confidence in Lam and her government, but said it would not sit idly by if the unrest threatened Chinese security and sovereignty.

Since early this summer, huge numbers of people have gathered in protests over a now-suspended extradition bill that would see people sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts. The exact number of people who have taken part in the protests vary, with police counts ranging from the hundreds of thousands to nearly two million in one June demonstration alone.

The protesters this week have included Hong Kong school and university students, who were boycotting classes Tuesday for a second straight day.

According to a leaked audio recording, Lam told business leaders last week she had caused "unforgivable havoc" by introducing the extradition bill and if she had a choice, she would apologize and resign.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's leaked recordings

2 years ago
Duration 0:32
In leaked audio recordings obtained by Reuters, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam can be heard saying she has caused "unforgivable havoc" for introducing a controversial extradition bill. 0:32

Hong Kong's chief executive told a televised news conference on Tuesday she had never considered asking to resign and Beijing believed her government could solve the three-month crisis without mainland China's intervention.

"I have not even contemplated discussing a resignation to the Central People's Government. The choice of resigning, it's my own choice," Lam said.

"I told myself repeatedly in the last three months that I and my team should stay on to help Hong Kong ... That's why I said that I have not given myself the choice to take an easier path, and that is to leave."

Protesters took part in a school boycott rally at Tamer Park in Hong Kong's Central district on Monday. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Lam said she was disappointed that comments made in a private meeting, where she had been sharing the "journey of my heart," had been leaked.

At a news conference by China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing, no questions were raised directly about the Lam tape, and spokespeople did not refer to it or the Reuters story.

They denounced the violence and Western countries seeking to use the Hong Kong issue to interfere in China's affairs, and reiterated China would never tolerate Hong Kong independence or a leader who was not loyal to Beijing.

The central government firmly supported Lam and her government, they said. But it would not sit by forever if the violence continued, spokesperson Xu Luying said.

"The central government will not allow chaos in Hong Kong to continue indefinitely," she said.

Xu Luying of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, shown at an Aug. 6 news conference, on Tuesday stated the government continues to support Lam. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

"If the situation in Hong Kong continues to worsen and it becomes turmoil that cannot be controlled by the SAR [special administrative region of Hong Kong] government and endangers the country's sovereignty and security, the central government will not sit idly by."

In an editorial on its website, the Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, denounced the Reuters story.

"Reuters and other Western media have been entangled in the fake news that 'Carrie Lam's resignation has not been approved' for some time, a serious infringement of the bottom line of professional ethics.

"They are not objectively reporting facts."

The growing unrest has morphed into a broader call for Chinese-ruled Hong Kong to be granted greater autonomy by Beijing, which has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest.

In the audio recording, Lam said that her ability to resolve the crisis was now "very limited," but she said on Tuesday that her government could bring an end to unrest.

"The reason I didn't tender my resignation is because I think I can lead my team to help Hong Kong to walk out from this dilemma. I still have the confidence to do this, so a contradiction that I really want to quit but I cannot quit does not exist."

Protesters have '5 demands'

Other than the withdrawal of the extradition bill, protesters, in what they are calling their "five demands," want:

  • The retraction of the word "riot" to describe rallies.
  • The release of all arrested demonstrators.
  • An independent inquiry into the police.
  • The right for Hong Kong citizens to democratically choose their own leaders.

Under Hong Kong law, rioting can carry a 10-year prison sentence.

Hong Kong school and university students are boycotting classes for a second straight day Tuesday to take part in protests. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Lam has said she was open to dialogue with protesters, but has made no concessions on these demands.

"I think Carrie Lam doesn't have much power," said Poon, a 21-year-old engineering student at Hong Kong University.

"No matter she can step down or not, it doesn't matter. Chief executive is still chosen by the central government. What matters is she refuses to response to the five demands. She's an irresponsible leader."

The weekend was marred by some of the worst violence since the unrest escalated more than three months ago, with protesters burning barricades and throwing petrol bombs, and police retaliating with water cannon, tear gas and batons.

Hong Kong's status as a Chinese territory is not up for discussion and Beijing will not sit idly by if the situation there endangers national security, China's Hong Kong affairs office said on Tuesday.

Police have arrested more than 1,100 people since the protests began, including high-profile activists like Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy Umbrella movement five years ago that foreshadowed the current unrest.

Protesters are seeking greater democracy for the former British colony which returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees wide-ranging autonomy, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.

They fear those freedoms are being slowly eroded by Communist Party rulers in Beijing, a charge China denies.

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