Chinese President Xi Jinping offered his support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday, praising her courage in governing the Chinese-ruled hub in these “most difficult times” after months of often violent anti-government protests.
His comments came after Hong Kong police fired tear gas in late night street clashes with anti-government protesters as the former British colony’s worst political crisis in decades shows no sign of resolution.
“The situation in Hong Kong in 2019 was the most complex and difficult since its return to the motherland,” Mr. Xi told local media in brief comments before a closed-door meeting with Ms. Lam in Beijing.
“The central government fully recognises the courage and assumption of responsibility you have displayed in these exceptional times in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of wide-ranging autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula, including a free press and independent judiciary, which the protesters say is being eroded by Communist Party rulers in Beijing. China denies the charge.
Hong Kong media have speculated that Ms. Lam’s talks with Mr. Xi could yield fresh directives on the crisis, including a possible Cabinet reshuffle.
‘Uphold the law’
Mr. Xi did not go into specifics, but reiterated his support for Ms. Lam despite some previous media reports suggesting she might be replaced.
He added Beijing was “unwavering in supporting Hong Kong police in firmly upholding the law” and said Ms. Lam had continued to uphold the “one country, two systems” principle.
Mr. Xi said last month that China was “unwavering” in defending national security and sovereignty, implementing the “one country, two systems” policy and opposing foreign forces interfering in Hong Kong.
He stated on Monday that these were Beijing’s basic positions on Hong Kong affairs.
Ms. Lam earlier met Premier Li Keqiang, who said Hong Kong was not yet out of the “dilemma” facing the city’s ailing economy after months of sometimes violent protests.
Late on Sunday, groups of masked youths blocked roads around the densely populated Mong Kok district of Kowloon, over the harbour from Hong Kong island, prompting police to fire multiple rounds of tear gas and baton charge crowds.
Ms. Lam said she was encouraged by Mr. Xi’s recognition of her efforts.
Curbs on media
“This year is of course a rather special one because in the last six months Hong Kong has been haunted by social unrest, disturbances and violence acts,” she said.
“So I spent a bit more time to give them an account of where things stand.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report on Monday that press freedom in Hong Kong has come under an accelerating squeeze despite China’s pledges to maintain an open society.