Secret Audio: Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Would Resign if China Let Her

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, speaks during a news conference at Central Government Complex on June 15, 2019 in Hong Kong China. Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced to delay a controversial China extradition bill and halt its progress on Saturday after recent clashes between the police and …
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

An audio recording obtained by Reuters on Monday revealed that Hong Kong’s China-appointed chief executive, Carrie Lam, wanted to resign from office, but the Communist Party did not let her.

Reuters claims the audio is from a closed-door meeting with businessmen. In it, a voice Reuters asserts belongs to Lam can be heard saying she has “very limited” room to resolve the ongoing political crisis because the civil unrest over the proposed extradition law has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China.

“If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology,” she said in her remarks. “For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” she stated.

Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that governs the relationship between Hong Kong and China, the chief executive position is appointed, not elected. China has used the position to appoint loyalists and ensure growing control over the city’s laws despite a ban on imposing Communist Party law on the ostensibly free city.

Protesters demanded Lam resign when protests erupted in June due to legislation that, if passed, would have allowed China to extradite people from Hong Kong if accused of breaking Chinese laws. Currently, the protest movement does not have Lam’s resignation listed as one of its five demands.

Reports that China refused to let Lam resign surfaced in June when a senior city official in Hong Kong claimed that Beijing would not let it happen for fear of being seen as a loss to the protesters.

In the Reuters audio, Lam added that she had little power once the crisis had been elevated to the Communist Party leadership of 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.”

She went on to note that “the political room for the chief executive who, unfortunately, has to serve two masters by the constitution, that is the central people’s government and the people of Hong Kong, that political room for maneuvering is very, very, very limited.”

Lam suggested that Beijing had “not yet reached a turning point” and had “absolutely no plan” to deploy People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops on Hong Kong streets in a bid to crush the protests. Hong Kong police have increasingly used tear gas, water cannons, and batons to assault peaceful protesters:

“They know that the price would be too huge to pay,” she said, adding:

They care about the country’s international profile. It has taken China a long time to build up to that sort of international profile and to have some say, not only being a big economy but a responsible big economy, so to forsake all those positive developments is clearly not on their agenda.

In a statement to Reuters, Lam’s office refused to comment on the leaked remarks, arguing that the meetings were private. “We are therefore not in a position to comment on what the Chief Executive has said at those events,” the spokesman said.

The 62-year-old’s comments in private appear significantly softer than what she has said in public about the protests. Last month, Lam accused  “radical elements” of Hong Kong’s population of trying to “foment revolution” against the Chinese state.

“Some radical elements have changed the nature of the protests: some defaced the national emblem, and others took down a national flag and threw it into the sea. They said they want to foment revolution, to ‘liberate’ Hong Kong,” she said last month. “These actions far exceeded the original political demands. These unlawful actions challenge national sovereignty and threaten One Country, Two Systems, and will destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

The protesters are demanding the withdrawal of the extradition bill, freedom for political prisoners, an inquiry into police brutality, direct election of lawmakers, and an apology from the government for calling the June 12 protest a “riot.”

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