China's top leaders praise embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam during her duty visit to Beijing

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Chinese President Xi Jinping met Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam in Beijing on Monday, saying he recognised her courage to govern the Asian financial hub in these "most difficult" times.
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in Beijing on Dec 16, 2019. PHOTO: AP

BEIJING - China's top leaders continued to express their support for Hong Kong's embattled chief executive Carrie Lam, with President Xi Jinping praising her courage and determination in dealing with the city's protests.

In a meeting with Mrs Lam in the Chinese capital on Monday (Dec 16), Mr Xi said the central government continued to support the Hong Kong police in enforcing the law, and affirmed Mrs Lam's efforts in upholding the "one country, two systems" principle by which the city is governed.

"You led the Special Administrative Region government to actively respond to social concerns, adopt a series of policies and measures to help businesses, alleviate people's problems, and seriously study and solve deep-rooted conflicts and problems in society," Mr Xi was quoted as saying in an official readout of the meeting by state news agency Xinhua.

"The central government fully affirms of the courage and commitment you have shown during this unusual period in Hong Kong."

This is the second time Mr Xi is meeting the Hong Kong leader in two months. Both had met in Shanghai early last month, where he also expressed a "high degree of trust" in the embattled Hong Kong leader.

Mrs Lam is on her annual duty visit to the Chinese capital, where she meets top leaders, including Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, to give them an accounting of what has happened in Hong Kong this past year.

These meetings come as protests continued in Hong Kong over the weekend, with skirmishes between police and protesters in shopping malls.

The city has been convulsed by more than six months of often violent protests, sparked in June by a since withdrawn extradition Bill and what Hong Kongers view is an erosion of their autonomy by the mainland.

On Monday, Chinese police confirmed that they had arrested an undisclosed number of a criminals on a cross-border bridge linking Hong Kong to the cities of Macau and Zhuhai, including a Hong Konger who had been reported missing over the weekend.

Unhappiness with Mrs Lam and her administration is growing - in district elections last month, pro-democracy candidates won nearly 90 per cent of seats.

Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy pointed out that while the majority of Hong Kongers might disagree with Mrs Lam, "the Chinese leadership has a different position, to them she is someone that safeguards their interests".

Mrs Lam told reporters during an evening press conference at the Hong Kong government's office in Beijing that both Mr Xi and Mr Li said the city's "most important task" is to stop the unrest and restore order.

She also pointed out that the situation facing Hong Kong was unprecedented since its reunification with China in 1997.

"I'm thankful that both leaders have given their support to the SAR government's thorough efforts to restore order to society," she said.

Her meetings with Chinese leaders are being closely watched for any signs of fresh directives from Beijing on Hong Kong's ongoing crisis, including a possible Cabinet reshuffle.

But she has refused to divulge details on what was discussed behind closed doors.

In her meeting earlier in the day with Mr Li, China's No. 2 leader warned that the city was not yet "out of its dilemma", and that protests have dealt many sectors a serious blow.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Dec 16, 2019. PHOTO: AP/HONG KONG GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SERVICES

"The SAR government must continue its efforts, end violence and stop the chaos in accordance with the law and restore order," Mr Li said in his opening remarks, which were broadcast by Cable TV.

Hong Kong is in recession for the first time in a decade, and experts warn that thousands of jobs could be lost in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors.

The city's largest television broadcaster Television Broadcasts Ltd, better known as TVB, said on Monday it would be laying off 10 per cent of its 3,500 staff, excluding artists, citing the economic slowdown and a "severe situation" caused by the unrest.

Its chief executive Mark Lee said in an e-mail to staff that a recession was a foregone conclusion and "no business sector including advertising, television, newspaper and other media will be spared".

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