HONG KONG - Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday (Sept 3) strongly denied contents of a leaked audio recording in which she said she would quit if she could, adding that the private conversation at a lunch was taken out of context.
The embattled leader told the media before the weekly Executive Council meeting that "as an individual, given the very difficult circumstances, maybe it was an easy choice to leave". But she stressed that she has never handed in her resignation to Beijing nor even thought about it.
"I said on several occasions previously, and (this was) also reaffirmed by my colleagues in the Chief Executive's Office, in response to media inquiry that throughout this period, from the beginning till now, I have never tendered a resignation to the Central People's Government. I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation to the Central People's Government. The choice of not resigning is my own choice," she said.
Mrs Lam added that she was and still is "very disappointed that my remarks in a totally private, exclusive session, which is a lunch actually, which clearly is subject to Chatham House rules, have been recorded and then passed to the media".
On the claim that she was the one who leaked the taped audio, Mrs Lam flatly dismissed it, saying to further suggest or allege that she or the government has any role to play in this matter is "absolutely unfounded".
Mrs Lam reiterated that she would take the "difficult path" to remain in office to lead Hong Kong out of the current political crisis.
Her comments came after Reuters on Monday night reported Mrs Lam as saying in an audio recording that she has caused "unforgivable havoc" by igniting the political crisis engulfing the city and would quit if she has a choice. The remarks were reportedly made last week to a group of business people.
The report said that Mrs Lam had told the group that she now has "very limited" room to resolve the crisis because the unrest has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid rising tensions with the United States.
The audio recording, now available online, had her saying: "If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology".
Mrs Lam went on to suggest in the recording that Beijing had not yet reached a turning point or imposed a deadline for ending the crisis ahead of China's 70th anniversary celebrations scheduled on Oct 1.
She also said China had "absolutely no plan" to deploy People's Liberation Army troops to Hong Kong streets.
World leaders have been closely watching whether China will send in the military to quell the protests, as it did a generation ago in the bloody Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.
Mrs Lam, Hong Kong's top official, also made the point that the political room for the Chief Executive who has to serve two masters by Constitution - the central people's government and the people of Hong Kong - is "very, very, very limited".
The meeting was one of a number of closed-door sessions that Mrs Lam has carried out with people from all walks of life in Hong Kong.
The city has now entered the 13th straight week of escalated protests since June 9.
The unrest is sparked by Mrs Lam's proposal in February to pass a Bill that would have Hong Kong extradite suspects to jurisdictions, including mainland China.
But a significant proportion of Hong Kongers do not trust the Chinese system and fear people sent over will not get a fair trial.
The anti-extradition Bill has been declared "dead" by Mrs Lam, who suspended it indefinitely but failed to successfully reassure the people that the government has no plans to bring it back.
Protesters' anger grew over what they felt was the government's inaction in the last three months, compounded by allegations of excessive use of force by the police.
What started out as a protest against the Bill has blown up into an anti-government movement that has often seen violent clashes between demonstrators and the police.
Protesters have five demands: a complete withdrawal of the Bill, an inquiry into alleged use of excessive force by the police, removal of the "riot" label on the June 12 protest, the release of all protesters arrested, and the implementation of universal suffrage.