Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor apologized on Tuesday for the political unrest that has shaken the city, but the pro-Beijing leader refused to give in to demands for her resignation or to withdraw the proposed legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
Lam issued her “most sincere apology” to the people of Hong Kong for her inadequacies in handling the extradition-bill saga, but did not address the two main demands of the protesters – the withdrawal of the proposals from the Legislative Council and to step down.
Lam told the press conference on Tuesday that she personally had to shoulder most of the responsibility for all the controversies and disputes in society. “For this I offer my most sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong,” she said.
There were no tears during her one-hour press conference, even though stacks of paper tissues had been prepared on the podium.
When asked by reporters why she refused to withdraw the bill, the city’s leader pointed out that her government had halted the legislative process, adding that it was “very unlikely” the government could re-table the bill before the current legislative term ends next year.
“I will not proceed again with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties could not be adequately addressed,” she said. “If the bill … [does] not make the Legislative Council by July next year, it will expire … and the government will accept that reality.”
She rejected calls from the estimated 2 million people who took to the streets demanding her resignation, saying there were plenty of livelihood and economic issues that her administration was committed to tackling.
“I personally have to shoulder much of the responsibility. This has led to controversies, disputes and anxieties in society,” Lam told Tuesday’s press conference. “For this I offer my most sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong.”
It was the third time in four days that Lam had softened her stance since she announced the suspension of the bill on Saturday and after about 2 million people demonstrated on two consecutive Sundays in the city.
Lam had issued a written apology on Sunday night, vowing to accept criticism in the most sincere and humble manner. She also said she was sorry to the pro-government allies who supported the amendment of the bill.
In fact, she arranged a closed-door meeting with all the pro-establishment figures on Saturday morning before her announcement of the bill’s suspension in the afternoon.
Although Lam apologized a few times to pro-establishment lawmakers, reportedly in tears, it was understood that some lawmakers, including Alice Mak Mei-kuen of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, slammed her, saying Lam dragged the political group down as it would be hard for them to respond to their supporters, the pro-government Sing Tao Daily reported.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People’s Party reportedly walked out in the middle of the meeting to show her discontent.
Pro-establishment lawmakers were deeply distressed and worried as the government swerved away from the extradition amendment because they said it would affect the result of the upcoming District Council election in November.
They worried they would lose their seats in the coming election as they had noticed some of their supporters, especially those who had a neutral stance previously, were angered over the government’s handling of the amendment and the excessive police force used during last Wednesday’s clashes.
In fact, in 2003, the District Council election came after controversies over the legislation of Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 and 500,000 people protested in mid-2003 against then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. The election in November that year saw a devastating defeat of the pro-government camp.
Joshua Wong, the student leader of the Umbrella Movement democracy protest in 2014 who was released from prison on Monday, said it was time for the pro-establishment camp to pay the price and they should start worrying about the result of the coming election.
Wong was jailed for three months on a contempt charge after pleading guilty to obstructing the clearance of a major protest camp in 2014.
Former LegCo president Tsang Yok-sing said he thought Lam should stay in her post because only the central government could appoint or remove a chief executive, not Lam herself, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
The Chinese government had supported the extradition bill and accused protest organizers of colluding with Western governments. It had denounced expressions of support for the Hong Kong protesters as interference in the city’s – and China’s – internal affairs.
But Beijing said after the bill’s suspension last week that it respected and understood the Hong Kong government’s decision.