The embattled leader of Hong Kong was caught on a leaked audio recording reportedly saying she would “quit” if she could after causing “unforgivable havoc,” but on Tuesday reiterated that she hasn’t resigned because it would be the easy way out.
In a press conference, Carrie Lam slammed the audio, recorded during a private meeting with a group of businesspeople, saying it was “unacceptable.”
The recording was published Monday by Reuters. In it, she is heard apparently blaming herself for igniting Hong Kong’s political crisis.
“If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology, is to step down,” the voice on the recording said.
She also admitted that a person in her position as chief executive of Hong Kong has to serve “two masters” — the people of Hong Kong and Beijing.
“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” Lam said in the tape.
Lam, 62, has a reputation as an efficient and pragmatic administrator, but she was unpopular with Hong Kongers even before she took office because she was seen as a proxy for Beijing and someone who was out of touch with ordinary people.
On Tuesday, Lam said she had never tendered her resignation to China over the anti-government protests that have roiled the city for three months.
"I have never tendered a resignation to the central people's government. I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation ... the choice of not resigning was my own choice," Lam said when asked why Beijing refused to let her quit.
"I know it is not going to be an easy path, and that's why I have said that I have not given myself the choice to take an easier path and that is to leave."
Lam was elected as Hong Kong's chief executive by a pro-Beijing committee of Hong Kong elites, and the mainland government has spoken in support of her government and the city's police force throughout the sometimes-violent protests.
The demonstrators, who have filled parks and streets regularly since early June, want democratic reforms to Hong Kong's government and an independent inquiry into police actions against protesters.
Lam has come under withering criticism for pushing an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trials. She has suspended the bill, but the protesters want it entirely withdrawn.
Tens of thousands of students clad in gas masks and hard helmets along with their formal school uniforms, boycotted the first day of classes Monday as part of a citywide strike. Workers also participated in a rally at a public park adjacent to the government headquarters.
The prolonged protests have hurt Hong Kong's economy amid a slowdown in the Chinese economy and its trade war with the United States.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.