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China’s Xi gives Hong Kong leader ‘unwavering support’

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a press conference in Beijing on December 16, 2019. – Chinese President Xi Jinping told beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on December 16 that she had Beijing’s “unwavering support” after another huge pro-democracy rally earlier this month and her government’s thrashing at recent local elections. (Photo by WANG ZHAO / AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping told beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday that she had Beijing’s “unwavering support” despite another huge pro-democracy rally earlier this month and her government’s thrashing at recent local elections.

The city has been upended by six months of massive pro-democracy protests that have seen violent battles between police and hardcore demonstrators, as well as regular transport disruption.

Protesters have called for the unpopular Lam to stand down as leader, but she received the backing of China’s leadership during a visit to Beijing on Monday.

“The central government fully recognises the courage and sense of responsibility you have demonstrated in such an exceptional period in Hong Kong,” Xi told Lam at the imposing Great Hall of the People.

“We will continue to provide unwavering support for you to lead the SAR (special administrative region) administration to govern according to the law,” Xi said.

Lam thanked Xi for his concern for the city’s situation, “for his guidance for us, and for the trust and support for the SAR government and me to handle such a big crisis”.

Lam met earlier with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who said her government had “tried its best to maintain social stability” amid “an unprecedentedly severe and complicated situation”.

But he also called for the Hong Kong government to “step up studies of the deep-seated conflicts and problems that hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development” in order to restore calm to the city.

“Hong Kong is yet to get out of its plight. The SAR government must continue its hard work, stop violence and subdue chaos according to laws and restore order,” Li told Lam.

Xi’s ‘understanding’
At a press conference held in Beijing after the meetings, Lam said that the “unprecedented” current situation in Hong Kong this year meant she had to spend “a bit more time to give (the leaders) an account of where things stand”.

“But I feel encouraged by President Xi’s understanding of the pressure I have been subject to in the past six months and his recognition of my sense of responsibility and the level of courage I have demonstrated,” she said.

The semi-autonomous city is ruled under the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives the territory rights unseen on mainland China — rights protestors say are steadily being eroded.

The past month had seen a lull in the violence and vandalism in the city after pro-democracy parties won a landslide in local council elections.

A week ago, around 800,000 people marched peacefully through the city’s streets, urging the government to respond to their five demands — which include an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.

But public anger remains as Beijing and Lam show no sign of further concessions despite the election result.

This weekend the relative calm was broken by clashes between black-clad pro-democracy protesters and Hong Kong police in some of the city’s shopping malls.

And last week an international panel of experts hired to advise Hong Kong on the police response to protests announced they were quitting, saying the watchdog was not fit for purpose “in a society that values freedoms and rights”.

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