Asia-Pacific

I would quit as Hong Kong leader if I had a choice, says Carrie Lam in leaked audio

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Leaked audio of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has emerged, in which can be heard saying she would quit her job if she had “a choice”.

Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she has caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the political crisis engulfing the city and would quit if she had a choice, according to an audio recording of remarks she made last week to a group of businesspeople.

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 United States.

“If I have a choice,” she said, speaking in English, “the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”

Ms Lam’s dramatic and at times anguished remarks offer the clearest view yet into the thinking of the Chinese leadership as it navigates the unrest in Hong Kong, the biggest political crisis to grip the country since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

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 a number of “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 businesspeople, 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.

A protesters throws a bottle onto a burning barricade in Hong Kong on Saturday.
A protesters throws a bottle onto a burning barricade in Hong Kong on Saturday.
Getty

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’s remarks are consistent with a Reuters report published on Friday that revealed how leaders in Beijing are effectively calling the shots on handling the crisis in Hong Kong.

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. The law has been shelved, but Ms Lam has been unable to end the upheaval.

The Chinese government rejected a recent proposal by Ms Lam to defuse the conflict that included withdrawing the extradition bill altogether, three people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Asked about the report, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the central government “supports, respects and understands” Ms Lam’s decision to suspend the bill. The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, denounced it as “fake.”

As protests escalated, Ms Lam suspended the bill on June 15. Several weeks later, on July 9, she announced that it was “dead.”

That failed to mollify the protesters, who expanded their demands to include an inquiry into police violence and democratic reform. Many have also called for an end to what they see as meddling by Beijing in the affairs of Hong Kong.

The tone of Ms Lam’s comments in the recording is at odds with her more steely public visage. At times, she can be heard choking up as she reveals the personal impact of the three-month crisis.

“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” she said.

Hong Kong police fire tear gas at protesters.
Hong Kong police fire tear gas at protesters at a rally in the central part of the city.
AP

Ms Lam told the meeting that the leadership in Beijing was aware of the potential damage to China’s reputation that would arise from sending troops into Hong Kong to quell the protests.

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

Ms Lam also spoke about the importance of the rule of law in Hong Kong and restoring stability to the city of more than seven million, as well as the need to improve efforts to get the government’s message out.

At the end, applause can be heard on the recording.

Ms Lam also 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.

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.”

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