Chinese President Xi Jinping told beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday that she had Beijing’s “unwavering support” after another huge pro-democracy rally earlier this month and her government’s thrashing at recent local elections.
The city has been upended by six months of massive pro-democracy protests that have seen violent battles between police and hardcore demonstrators, as well as regular transport disruption.
Protesters have called for the unpopular Lam to stand down as leader but she received the backing of China’s leadership during an annual visit to Beijing on Monday.
“The central government fully recognises the courage and sense of responsibility you have demonstrated in such an exceptional period in Hong Kong,” Xi told Lam at the imposing Great Hall of the People.
“We will continue to provide unwavering support for you to lead the SAR (special administrative region) administration to govern according to the law,” Xi said.
Lam thanked Xi for his concern for the city’s situation, “for his guidance for us, and for the trust and support for the SAR government and me to handle such a big crisis.”
Lam met earlier with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who said her government had “tried its best to maintain social stability” amid “an unprecedentedly severe and complicated situation.”
But he also called for the Hong Kong government to “step up studies of the deep-seated conflicts and problems that hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development” in order to restore calm to the city.
“Hong Kong is yet to get out of its plight. The SAR government must continue its hard work, stop violence and subdue chaos according to laws and restore order,” Li told Lam.
At the meeting with Li, she said she was grateful for the premier’s “care for Hong Kong”.
The semi-autonomous city is ruled under the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives the territory rights unseen on mainland China — rights protestors say are steadily being eroded.
The past month had seen a lull in the violence and vandalism in the city, after pro-democracy parties won a landslide in local council elections.
A week ago, around 800,000 people marched peacefully through the city’s streets, urging the government to respond to their five demands — which include an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.
But public anger remains as Beijing and Lam show no sign of giving further concessions despite the election success.
This weekend the relative calm was broken by clashes between black-clad pro-democracy protesters and Hong Kong police in some of the city’s shopping malls.
And earlier this week an international panel of experts hired to advise Hong Kong on the police response to protests announced they were quitting, saying the watchdog was not fit for purpose “in a society that values freedoms and rights”.
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