Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hails President Xi Jinping’s support for city as she rejects suggestions Beijing is exploiting the anti-government protests

Tony Cheung

President Xi Jinping is determined to see Hong Kong succeed under “one country, two systems”, according to the city's embattled leader, as she dismissed suggestions the Chinese government was using the civil unrest as an excuse to tighten its control over the city.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also hit out at “disproportionate” coverage of the Hong Kong unrest in the West, when riots had broken out in other parts of the world.

During her visit to Switzerland, she suggested the phenomenon showed foreign forces had been trying to use the city’s plight for their own agenda.

“I do feel that perhaps there is something at work, although I said there hasn’t been conclusive evidence, so there is a bigger picture other than the domestic situation,” she said.

She added the central government had not told her how to tackle the crisis, other than to say solutions must be found within the one country, two systems governing formula, under which Hong Kong is promised a high degree autonomy.

Lam made the remarks as she spoke to news media Bloomberg and CNBC on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos.

Lam has led a delegation to the Swiss town, where she met top officials such as Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Fang Xinghai, vice-chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission to explain the situation in Hong Kong.

She also promoted the city when she spoke at a session on technology leadership in Asia.

China’s leaders praise Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam but urge her to quell violence

Hong Kong has been roiled by more than seven months of social unrest, triggered in June by the now-withdrawn extradition bill before evolving into a wider anti-government movement with the push for more democracy at its heart.

The protests started with generally peaceful mass marches but soon descended into violence that has damaged the city’s international reputation.

Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping during their meeting in Macau last month. Photo: Reuters

In an interview with Bloomberg, Lam was asked whether Beijing had been tightening its control on Hong Kong amid the social unrest.

“There is no truth in the allegation that the central government is tightening its grip on Hong Kong,” Lam responded.

“The central government has time and again made it very clear that they want Hong Kong to succeed under ‘one country, two systems’ and a high degree of autonomy.

“It was made very clear to me by President Xi Jinping on the three occasions that I met him [within a couple of months].”

Xi’s message of pride in Macau seen as rebuke of wayward Hong Kong

Asked what directives Beijing had issued for quelling the unrest in Hong Kong, Lam said: “They have not given any explicit directive on how to handle it, except that they’ve made it clear that the solution also has to abide by ‘one country, two systems'.

“You can’t go beyond the constitutional requirement to solve this issue. Similarly, domestically, I couldn’t go beyond the rule of law to solve this political crisis,” she said.

In an interview with CNBC, Lam was also asked if an independent, judge-led inquiry should be set up to look into alleged police brutality against protesters in Hong Kong.

But the chief executive insisted riot police had been restrained in handling violent protests.

“With seven months of that sort of situation, we have not had one single fatal casualty as a result of police action. The police are acting in an extremely restrained way,” she said.

Lam reiterated that the Independent Police Complaints Council had been looking into complaints against the force, referring to the police watchdog’s ongoing review.

Moody’s downgrades Hong Kong on its inability to deal with protests

On Monday, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Hong Kong’s rating, accusing the government of failing to draw up effective plans to resolve the political and economic issues that had arisen from months of civil unrest.

Asked to comment on the decision, which has dealt another blow to the city’s reputation as a business hub, Lam said: “Certainly, we are very disappointed with the downgrading … I am even more disappointed by their assessment of the Hong Kong situation and their comment on ‘weak institutions and governance’.”

Lam argued that rather than showing weakness, Hong Kong’s institutions and governance systems had displayed resilience during the protests.

The chief executive also said Hong Kong’s protests had received disproportionate commentary and reporting when riots had taken hold in multiple locations across the world.

“It is for all to see that what has happened in Hong Kong, on this occasion, has attracted disproportionate commentary from Western media, from overseas governments and politicians,” she said.

Lam also explained she had rejected protesters’ demands for her to resign because she had a duty to ensure that Hong Kong moved forward.

“The last thing that Hong Kong people would like to see is Hong Kong being stagnant,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s commerce minister Edward Yau defended the handling of the protests in an interview with Reuters in Davos.

“Hong Kong is a free society,” Yau said. “Peaceful demonstrations have never been stopped or hindered. But of course there is bottom line. Any violence, hurting people or hurting the society, the law will have to take its justice course.

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“In the past seven months, we were suffering from quite a lot of violent demonstrations, and hurting both the economy and people’s livelihood. Government has a role to talk to the people, maintain dialogue and resolve conflicts.”

Asked about the implementation of one country, two systems, Yau said the was holding on “steadfastly” to the principal.

He also rejected the recent lowering of Hong Kong’s credit rating by Moody’s.

“There are, from time to time, some credit rating houses adjusting their assessments. But I think Hong Kong remains alive and kicking.”

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