HONG KONG • Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam rejected reports of her looming dismissal as "very malicious", reiterating that she had Beijing's support despite five months of unrest.
Mrs Lam's comments before a meeting of the city's Executive Council yesterday came after a Financial Times report said that Beijing was mulling over a plan to remove Mrs Lam after her administration failed to quell months of increasingly violent unrest.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien told Bloomberg News that Beijing was looking into a plan to replace the Chief Executive, and was considering candidates to fill Hong Kong's top job next year.
Mrs Lam called the FT report "very malicious and maybe politically driven speculation", citing similar comments last week by China's Foreign Ministry.
"The central government has been very supportive and remains confident that I, myself, my political team, and the Hong Kong SAR government - particularly the police - will be able to handle the situation and end violence and return Hong Kong to normal as soon as possible," Mrs Lam said, referring to the city's status as a special administrative region of China.
Her introduction of legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China sparked the months of protests against Beijing's tightening grip over the city.
The Beijing-appointed Chief Executive's decision to withdraw the Bill and invoke a colonial-era emergency law to ban face masks have so far failed to stop the protests.
Her approval rating fell to a record low this month, with just 15 per cent expressing confidence in her performance, according to the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
Mrs Lam said she understood the concerns of the city's peaceful demonstrators, but was unable to engage in political dialogue until the violence abated. She said that people's tolerance for more radical protest tactics was making it more difficult to find a solution.
"I'm very committed to do that dialogue, to listen to people, and to change polices, and so on," she said.
"But the first thing must be to stop the violence. If there are a large number of people legitimising the violence or even glorifying the violence, I'm afraid it will make it even more difficult for us to tackle the situation."
Hong Kong is battling a rapidly worsening economic situation.
Mrs Lam said yesterday she expects the Asian financial hub to record negative economic growth for this year, as the city grapples with five months of often violent anti-government protests.
Mrs Lam was speaking two days after Financial Secretary Paul Chan said Hong Kong has fallen into recession and was unlikely to achieve any growth this year.
"Our current assessment is that the full year of 2019 will likely show negative growth, which means we won't be able to achieve the already revised down positive growth of 0 per cent to 1 per cent," Mrs Lam said. "The situation is very grim".
A preliminary estimate for third-quarter gross domestic product tomorrow is expected to show two successive quarters of contraction - the technical definition of a recession.
Beijing-backed Mrs Lam said the government would announce fresh measures to boost the economy once unrest in the Chinese-ruled city settles. She did not elaborate.
The government last week announced relief measures of HK$2 billion (S$348 million), following a HK$19.1 billion package in August to support the economy.
Mrs Lam had also pledged to address the city's notoriously expensive housing prices in a major policy speech on Oct 16.
She was shouted down by opposition lawmakers and forced to deliver her address by video, and later heckled in the Legislative Council.