Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warns against foreign interference, escalation of violence

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on Sept 10, 2019.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on Sept 10, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Interference by foreign parliaments in Hong Kong’s affairs is deeply regrettable, the leader of the Chinese-ruled city said on Tuesday (Sept 10), adding that an escalation of violence cannot solve social issues in the city.  

The city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, was speaking after another weekend of sometimes violent clashes in the former British colony, with police firing tear gas in cat-and-mouse skirmishes with protesters who at times smashed windows and started fires in the streets.  

“It’s extremely inappropriate for foreign parliaments to interfere in HKSAR internal affairs in any way, and (we) will not allow (the United States) to become a stakeholder in HKSAR matters,” Mrs Lam said, referring to Hong Kong by its status as a special administrative region of China.

During a rally at the US consulate on Sunday, thousands of demonstrators, some waving the American flag, called for help in bringing democracy to Hong Kong.  

The protesters called for the US Congress to pass legislation that would require Washington to make an annual assessment of whether Hong Kong was sufficiently autonomous from mainland China to retain special US trade and economic benefits.

After three months of unrest, Mrs Lam last week withdrew a controversial extradition bill that had triggered the protests, but the gesture failed to appease many demonstrators, who are using the popularity of the movement to revive old grievances.

During a rally at the US consulate on Sunday, thousands of demonstrators had called for help in bringing democracy to Hong Kong.

The protesters wanted the US Congress to pass legislation that would require Washington to make an annual assessment of whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from mainland China to retain special US trade and economic benefits.

Chinese officials have accused foreign forces of trying to hurt Beijing by creating chaos in Hong Kong and warned other nations against interfering in the territory, saying the situation is an "internal affair".

On Monday, former US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said the anti-government protests were "not an internal" Chinese matter and the United States should offer at least moral support to the demonstrators.

Anger over the now-shelved extradition bill has reinvigorated public opposition to Beijing that had dwindled after 2014, when authorities faced down a pro-democracy movement that occupied streets for 79 days in the central business district.

"Escalation and continuation of violence cannot solve the issues faced by our society now," Mrs Lam told a news conference on Tuesday. "It will only deepen the conflict, contradiction, splits, and even hatred in society."

Many initially peaceful protests in the past three months have degenerated into encounters between baton-wielding riot police and activists, leading to scores of injuries and about 1,300 arrests.

The protests, beamed live to the world since June, have prompted some of the city's powerful tycoons to appeal for calm.

In his first speech mentioning the unrest, billionaire Li Ka-shing urged political leaders to offer young people an olive branch, calling them "masters of our future", according to an online video of remarks to a small crowd during a monastery visit on Sunday.

 

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

Many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is eroding that autonomy. China denies the accusation of meddling in the city.

Mrs Lam said her administration’s actions, including the Bill’s formal withdrawal, were "not directly to stop these protests and violence." She added, "It is really to express my sincerity to start a dialogue with the people."