Two leading candidates for Hong Kong’s top position declined to comment on Wednesday about a media report that Beijing was planning to replace Chief Executive Carrie Lam with an “interim” chief executive by March.

The Chinese government was drafting a plan to replace Lam with an “interim” chief executive, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed people briefed on the deliberations. Chinese President Xi Jinping has to make a decision on this, according to the report.

Norman Chan Tak-lam, a former chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Tang Ying-nien, a former Chief Secretary and current standing member of The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, are among the potential candidates, the report said.

Two other possible candidates – Paul Chan, the financial secretary, and Bernard Chan, the convener of the Exco – were said to be too close to Lam’s discredited administration, it added.

Chan, who went into retirement on October 1, said on Wednesday he would not respond to the speculation. Tang, through a spokesperson, also declined to comment on the report. He said he continued to support Lam as chief executive.

The Chief Executive Office refused to comment on the speculation.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said on Wednesday that the Financial Times’ report was spreading a rumor with an ulterior motive. Hua said the central government was determined to support Lam and her work to end the riots in Hong Kong as early as possible.

The Financial Times’ report was wrong and none of the suggested candidates listed in the story could possibly take over from Lam based on the Basic Law, The Japan Times reported, citing a senior official in Beijing.

Beijing had prepared all kinds of contingency plans for different scenarios in Hong Kong, including Lam’s administration losing total control of the situation, according to the unnamed official.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a non-official member of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, said he had not heard about a possible replacement for the current chief executive. He said the Financial Times’ report would send the wrong message to the public – that violent protests could force the government to replace senior officials.

Tong said the public should ignore the media report as the procedure of appointing a Hong Kong Chief Executive by Beijing without going through an election would violate the constitutional requirements stated in the Basic Law.

More than 400 protests have been held in Hong Kong over the past four months, with some masked people vandalizing facilities at MTR stations, pro-Beijing shops and traffic lights. Clashes between the police and the demonstrators continued to escalate, prompting the Hong Kong government to invoke the emergency law to launch an anti-mask law on October 5.

While the police banned most protests, anti-extradition protesters continued to rally to call on the government to fulfill their five demands – the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, the retraction of the “riot” characterization of the June 12 protests, the release of all arrested protesters, the establishment of an independent inquiry into police brutality and the implementation of universal suffrage.

On September 4, Lam announced that the government would retract the extradition bill. She was heavily criticized by the pro-establishment camp for the decision. On Wednesday, John Lee Ka-chiu, the Secretary for Security, officially retracted the bill in the Legislative Council.

Yau Ching-yuen, a Hong Kong-based political commentator, who has been suggesting a possible change in Hong Kong’s leadership for several months, said the news about Beijing’s plan to replace Lam would help calm the situation in Hong Kong before the coming fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

He said Norman Chan had a higher chance of being selected as the interim Chief Executive due to his close relationship with China’s Vice-President Wang Qishan, but Tang, whose late father Tang Hsiang Chien was a close friend of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, still had a chance.

Xinhua reported on August 30 that the fourth plenary session would be held in Beijing in October. HK01.com reported on Tuesday that the four-day session would take place between October 27 and 31.