Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam didn’t make any new concessions to protesters after pro-democracy forces won a landslide in local elections, a move that risks leading to further violence after months of unrest.
The comments on Tuesday came during her first weekly briefing since an overwhelming majority of voters delivered a strong rebuke of her administration and its backers in Beijing. About 85% of 452 District Council seats went to pro-democracy candidates, a swing of more than 50 percentage points amid a record turnout.
While Lam acknowledged the vote reflected “unhappiness” and vowed to “seriously reflect on these views,” she continued to advocate a plan she outlined more than two months ago calling for peaceful dialogue with “people from all walks of life.” Protesters have already rejected those suggestions, which also included several reviews of the police and greater societal issues that demonstrators don’t consider fully independent.
“The priority for us now is to properly follow up on actions proposed, including community dialogue,” Lam said at the briefing before a meeting of the city’s Executive Council.
“After these five or six months, Hong Kong people have realised very clearly that Hong Kong can no longer tolerate this chaotic situation,” she added. “Everybody wants to go back to their normal life and this requires the concerted efforts of every one of us.”
Lam’s comments raised some hopes that she might find a way to resolve the dispute with protesters, who have called for
an independent commission of
inquiry into the unrest and meaningful elections for the city’s top job.
“The ball is in the government’s court to take a step forward. I hope that the opportunity is seized,” Derek Mitchell, president of the National Democratic Institute, a non-partisan group based in DC, said of the election results in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong. “If that opportunity is not seized, it leads to a dead end,” he said. “I hope all sides take a breath and maybe we can get to a point where the Hong Kong government takes a step forward and builds trust again.”
Lam’s failure to budge from a September proposal led many to predict more violence is once again right around the corner.
It would be “very easy” for Lam to set up an independent inquiry as a starting point for peace, said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor and pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong.
“I’m afraid that the radical protesters will start clashes with the police again,” he said. “It’s a hard line. No concessions. No bowing to violence. No bowing to mass movements.”
Chinese officials and state media has barely acknowledged the results, with foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying that stopping violence and restoring order “is the paramount task in Hong Kong at the moment.”
Frank talks with China on HK are important: Japan
Japan’s top government spokesman said it’s important to have frank discussions with China about Hong Kong and other contentious issues as PM Shinzo Abe looks to host president Xi Jinping for a state visit next spring.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters there was no change to the Abe government’s deep concern about Hong Kong, which he said was an important economic partner for Japan. Suga added Japan would continue to raise the Hong Kong issue, along with other matters, ahead of Xi’s visit as it watches with concern the issue of human rights among the Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group in China.
His comments came after Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi held talks with Abe and foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo.