Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) yesterday said that she would not rule out asking for Chinese government help in putting down the long-running protests “if the situation becomes so bad,” but added that she thought the local government could handle the situation.
Lam said she had no plans at the moment to use sweeping emergency powers to bring in further laws, after a controversial anti-mask ban inflamed tensions across the territory and spurred four days of street protests.
She warned that Hong Kong’s economy was entering a “bitter winter,” with the protests affecting tourism in particular, with visitors in the first week of October — a national holiday in mainland China — down by half.
Visitor numbers slid 4.8 percent year-on-year in July, and plummeted 30 to 40 percent in August and last month.
Retail figures and hotel occupancy for August were both down year-on-year, she said.
On Monday, Ip Kwok-him (葉國謙), a member of Lam’s Executive Council, floated the idea of Internet curbs to try to contain the four-month old protest movement, which is leaderless and has been organized largely through online forums and encrypted messaging.
Speaking to journalists ahead of a regular meeting of the council, Lam said it was too early to assess if the mask ban had been effective, but she did not regret passing it.
“We have had enough chaos, it’s been four months,” she said.
On Monday night, police again clashed with crowds across Hong Kong.
Lam claims the ban is needed to stop violence, but critics say it is a dangerous assault on civil rights that has only spurred fresh outrage and protests.
Asked if she would rule out asking the government in Beijing for help if Hong Kong authorities were not able to quash the protest movement, Lam said that for now she believed her government could handle the situation.
“At this point I strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves, that is also the position of the central government [in mainland China],” she said. “But if the situation becomes so bad, then no options could be ruled out, if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance.”
Lam condemned the “serious and widespread” damage, and called protesters “lawless” rioters trying to create a climate of fear, who were preventing the territory from returning to normal life.
She said it was too early to say whether the mask ban would be ineffective and urged youth not to participate in what she called political actions.
The anti-mask law is also applicable in schools and universities, with the Hong Kong Education Bureau asking secondary schools to inform how many students wore masks to school yesterday, the first day of classes since the ban was implemented.
Lam, who is due to give a policy address next week, said it would not be the “usual comprehensive” address due to her team’s preoccupation with the situation. She did not elaborate.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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