China has denied it is planning to replace Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam with an “interim” chief executive, rubbishing a report from the Financial Times (FT) as “a political rumour out of ulterior motives”.
Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said at a regular news conference in Beijing on Wednesday that the Chinese government “will firmly support Chief Executive Carrie Lam” and her administration to “stop violence and restore order as soon as possible”.
The comments followed a report by the FT, citing people briefed on deliberations, that if Chinese President Xi Jinping decides to go ahead with the proposal, Lam’s successor would be appointed by March and cover the remainder of her term, which ends in 2022.
Lam has become a lightning rod for protests over fears that Beijing is tightening its grip, limiting the freedoms enjoyed under the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined when colonial ruler the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
Sources told the FT that officials in China want a stabilised situation before a final decision can be made on leadership changes, as they do not want to be seen as giving in to violence.
The leading candidates to succeed Lam include Norman Chan, the former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Tang, who has also served as the territory’s financial secretary and chief secretary for administration, the report said.
In September, in response to a report by the Reuters News Agency about a recording of Lam saying she would step down if she could, she said she had never asked the Chinese government to let her resign in order to end the Chinese-ruled city’s political crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Hong Kong since mid-June in sometimes-violent protests against now-suspended draft legislation that could have seen suspected criminals extradited to mainland China for trial.