HONG KONG • 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 to a business group.
At the closed-door meeting last week, the Chief Executive told the group that she now has "very limited" room to resolve the crisis because the unrest has become an issue of national security and sovereignty 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 three-month unrest in Hong Kong.
Ms Lam suggested that Beijing had not yet reached a turning point. She said Beijing had not imposed any deadline for ending the crisis ahead of National Day celebrations scheduled for Oct 1.
She said China had "absolutely no plan" to deploy People's Liberation Army troops on Hong Kong streets, and 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
But she said China was "willing to play long" to ride out the unrest, even if it meant economic pain for the city, including a drop in tourism and losing out on capital inflows such as initial public offerings.
Ms Carrie Lam suggested that Beijing had not yet reached a turning point. She said Beijing had not imposed any deadline for ending the crisis ahead of National Day celebrations scheduled for Oct 1. She also said China had "absolutely no plan" to deploy People's Liberation Army troops on Hong Kong streets.
Three people who were at 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 reviewed by Reuters.
Responding to Reuters, a spokesman for Ms Lam said she attended two events last week that included people from the business community, 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.
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 also did not immediately respond to questions.
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 crisis. "For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable," she said.
But she expressed hope in the city's ultimate "resurrection", saying: "Hong Kong is not dead yet. Maybe she is very, very sick, but she is not dead yet."