Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she will not make any concessions to violent demonstrators, urging an end to the protests in favour of focussing on the economy.
The extradition bill proposed by Lam has sparked weeks of anti-government protests, as demands evolved from the withdrawal of the bill to the formation of an inquiry into police violence. Activists have called for the release of arrested protesters and universal suffrage whilst Beijing has threatened intervention, deeming the movement a “colour revolution” to overthrow the local government.
Lam appeared at a rare press conference at the Chief Executive’s Office on Friday, which lasted under 30 minutes. She said it was understandable that the central government would not ignore the situation if it continued to worsen.
Asked if her plea to end the protests will spark further dissent, Lam said the economy was important to Hong Kong.
“Unless a small minority of people… [don’t] mind destroying Hong Kong. They have no stake in society which so many people have helped to build. And that’s why they resorted to all this violence and obstructions, causing huge damage to [the] economy and to the daily lives of people,” she said.
When asked if she had any political solutions to the current crisis, Lam refused to make any concessions.
“I don’t think we should just make concessions in order to silence the violent protesters. We should do what is right for Hong Kong,” she said.
Lam said she decided to resume the meetings of the top advisory body Executive Council next Tuesday, which was on summer break until August 27.
Several members of the commercial sector appeared at the press conference after meeting with Lam, including Aron Harilela, chairman Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.
Lam warned of an upcoming economic downturn, partially because of the US-China trade war – though she did not offer evidence over whether the protests may be a factor.
“The economic downturn came very quickly. Some people described it as a tsunami. It was unlike the downturn brought the SARS pandemic and the financial crisis. It is worse this time,” Lam said.
Hong Kong reported 0.5 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product during the first quarter of 2019 – the smallest growth in GDP since 2009.
Lam said she asked the Financial Secretary Paul Chan to lay out measures to boost the economy and help residents and businesses.
She also said she has asked the government to share more positive news, amid the negative stories reported by the media.
Economy vs. politics
Pro-democracy camp convener Claudia Mo said Lam has chosen to ignore the excessive force used by the police.
“This is very unfair to residents who were attacked by the police,” she said.
Mo said the economy cannot be separated from politics.
“The economy cannot be sustained in an authoritarian regime. It may be fine in the short term, but it cannot work in the long run,” she said. “You cannot scare off Hong Kong people.”
She said Lam should go to the airport to meet young protesters and listen to their demands.
Accountancy sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung said consumers may not be deterred by the protests, but the violent mob attacks on residents could be a factor.
He said the international political situation in India, the UK and US would affect the Hong Kong economy more than the protests.