Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly backed the beleaguered leader of Hong Kong on Monday, in his most direct public comments so far on the pro-democracy protests that have shaken the city for months and raised doubts about her political survival, The New York Times writes.
Xi gave his endorsement while meeting the Hong Kong leader, Carrie Lam, in Shanghai on Monday night, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported early Tuesday.
Lam briefed Xi on developments in Hong Kong, where demonstrators have protested for 22 weeks to demand the introduction of wider democracy in the semiautonomous city, which falls under Chinese sovereignty as a “special administrative region.”
In the face of the tumult, he told Lam, “you have led the government of the special administrative region in diligently carrying out duties and striving to stabilize the situation,” according to the news agency.
“The central leadership has high confidence in you, and fully affirms the work of you and your administrative team,” Xi said. “Halting the violence and restoring order remain the most important duty in Hong Kong at present.”
At the same time, Xi reminded Lam of Beijing’s support for a stern approach to the protests, which have grown increasingly violent in the face of heavy-handed policing. He “demanded unswerving efforts to stop and punish violent activities in accordance with the law,” according to Xinhua.
Xi and Lam were both in Shanghai for the China International Import Expo, for which Xi delivered an opening speech on trade and economic policy on Tuesday.
Lam’s tenure as Hong Kong’s top official, or chief executive, depends on the effective blessing of Xi, the Times adds. His public endorsement may offer political relief after persistent rumors that he could press her to step down after the protests subside.
Still, Lam’s survival may depend on going along with plans that Chinese leaders announced last week to impose tougher “national security” measures on Hong Kong. Such a step could give fresh impetus to the protesters, whose demands have included Lam’s resignation and democratic elections for chief executive and for the entire Hong Kong Legislative Council.