Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that she will not rule out asking the Chinese government for help if “limitless and lawless” violence continues in her semi-autonomous city.
“At this point in time, I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves. It is also the position of the central government that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own,” Lam said at a press conference.
“But if the situation becomes so bad, then no options can be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance,” she added ominously.
Lam responded to a question about widespread defiance of her ban on masks by saying that, like “any new policy or new legislation,” the ban “will take time to be effectively implemented.”
“If a piece of legislation has been enacted but the people refuse to abide by the law, then we have a problem at hand,” she admitted.
In theory, protesters who wear masks in public could face up to a year in jail and thousands of dollars in fines. In practice, only 16 people had been arrested for violating the ban as of Tuesday morning, despite thousands of demonstrators ignoring Lam’s order and wearing masks. In one embarrassing incident on Sunday, the police decided to confiscate gas masks worn by reporters who were attempting to cover a street clash in which tear gas had been deployed.
Lam refused to comment on rumors that she might use her new emergency powers to shut down Internet access in a bid to control the protests or impose other forms of censorship.
“We currently have no plans to invoke the Emergency Regulations Ordinance again to make new laws,” she said.
Lam said the protests are causing “significant” damage to Hong Kong’s economy and way of life, and “heavily weighing on various industries including retail, services, tourism, catering and others.” Hotel bookings are reportedly down by 28 percent and tourist visitors have fallen by almost 50 percent.
“The damage might lead to rising unemployment,” she warned, noting that the suffering industries employ tens of thousands of people.
Lam rebuffed criticism from Western officials, notably including Hong Kong’s last British Governor Chris Patten, by claiming other countries would deal with the protest movement the same way she has.
“If such a situation happened on their soil, I believe their countermeasures would not be any lighter than what we have taken,” she argued.