Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) yesterday warned that more than two months of pro-democracy demonstrations were causing economic chaos in the territory, but ruled out making concessions to “silence the violent protesters.”
The embattled leader met with business leaders as thousands of pro-democracy activists staged a sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport hoping to win international support for their movement.
Lam, whose support for a bill to allow extradition to China sparked the crisis, warned that the economic effects of the unrest threatened to be worse than the 2003 SARS outbreak in the financial hub.
“Compared to the economic downturn caused by SARS that we handled previously, which caused an economic storm, the situation this time is more severe,” she told an abruptly organized news conference.
“In other words, the economic recovery will take a very long time,” she added.
The private sector — the tourism industry in particular — has raised concerns about the economic effects of the ongoing protests on the territory, with travel agencies reporting drops of up to 50 percent in group tour bookings and the Hong Kong Tourism Board warning of double-digit declines in visitor arrivals in the second half of last month.
Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific (國泰航空) has also warned that inbound bookings are down.
The Chinese Civil Aviation Administration yesterday issued a major safety alert to Cathay Pacific, demanding that the carrier suspend personnel who have engaged in and supported the protests from working flights to China from today.
Crew who have engaged in the protests pose a threat to aviation safety in China, it said in a statement on its Web site.
Protesters have continued to stage almost daily rallies that have seen increasingly violent confrontations with police, prompting several nations to issue travel warnings to their citizens.
The protests began two months ago over the controversial extradition bill, but have morphed into a broader movement demanding democratic reforms.
Lam has refused to cave in to the demands, which include a call for the direct election of the territory’s chief executive, who is currently chosen by Beijing.
“As far as [the] political solution is concerned, I don’t think we should just sort of make concessions in order to silence the violent protesters,” Lam said.
“We should do what is right for Hong Kong, and at this moment, what is right for Hong Kong ... is to stop the violence and to say ‘no’ to the chaotic situation that Hong Kong has experienced in the last few weeks so that we can move on,” she added.
Activists at the sit-in in the airport’s arrivals hall held up signs in Chinese and English condemning police violence.
“No rioters, only tyranny,” the demonstrators chanted as they began a three-day action.
“Save Hong Kong from tyranny and police brutality!” read one sign.
Protesters have staged increasingly inventive rallies across Hong Kong and brought out supporters ranging from families to lawyers in a bid to show the broad backing for their demands.
However, the demonstrations have also increasingly descended into violence, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and protesters hurling bricks and bottles.
The sit-in is the second time the demonstrators have taken their message to the busy travel hub, hoping to garner support from international arrivals.
“Ask me about Hong Kong” read signs in different languages attached to the sleeves of some of the protesters.
“We want to tell the passengers what’s happening in Hong Kong,” 16-year-old student Charlotte Au said.
Some travelers arriving at the airport stopped to take photographs or look at leaflets being handed out by the demonstrators. Others offered protesters a thumbs-up.
Clara Boudehen, visiting from France, said that she was “very impressed” by the rally.
“Our democracy is not absolute, we have to fight for it,” she said. “To see the population fight for democracy is very important.”
Monica Yoon Hee Jung, who had just arrived from South Korea, said that she had been slightly nervous about her trip.
“When I see the rally here, it is really peaceful. They are not aggressive at all. I feel they are trying to show their real heart. Very genuine,” she said.
Further protests are planned across Hong Kong over the weekend, with fears that new confrontations between police and demonstrators are possible. Hundreds of people have already been arrested in the unrest.
The weeks of demonstrations have posed the biggest threat to Beijing’s authority since Hong Kong’s handover from Britain in 1997.
Additional reporting by Reuters
SURPRISE GUEST: Media reports identified the visitor as Admiral Michael Studeman, director of the J2, which oversees intelligence at the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command A two-star US Navy admiral overseeing US military intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region has made an unannounced visit to Taiwan, two sources told Reuters on Sunday. The sources, who include a Taiwanese official familiar with the situation, said the official was Rear Admiral Michael Studeman. They were speaking on condition of anonymity. After initially saying on Sunday night that it had no comment about the report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it welcomed the visit of an “unidentified US official,” but declined to give more details because the trip “has not been made public.” Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang (張惇涵) yesterday
AUTUMN STRUGGLE: The KMT and TPP set up stages on the rally’s sidelines, while Want Want boss Tsai Eng-meng said the DPP was curtailing freedom of speech Tens of thousands of people in Taipei yesterday took part in the “Autumn Struggle” (秋鬥) — an annual protest march by labor groups — but with this year’s focus on rejecting the government’s plan to allow imports of US pork containing ractopamine residue. “Against poisonous pork, against double standards, against a party-state,” the protesters, mostly wearing black, chanted in front of the rally’s main stage on Ketagalan Boulevard at about noon, before a parade set off at 2pm. Autumn Struggle spokesperson Lee Chien-cheng (李建誠) said this year’s march was divided into three teams, with the first team urging food safety and labor
DEFENSE: The construction of indigenous submarines will be a testament to the nation’s commitment to safeguard its sovereignty, President Tsai Ing-wen said President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday presided over a ceremony to mark the start of construction of the nation’s first indigenous submarine at state-run shipbuilder CSBC Corp’s (台灣國際造船) shipyard in Kaohsiung. “This submarine is an important part of allowing our navy to develop asymmetric warfare and to intimidate and block enemy ships from surrounding Taiwan’s main island,” Tsai said. “With the construction of the submarine to its future commission, we will certainly let the world know our persistence in safeguarding our sovereignty.” Tsai has made boosting the nation’s indigenous defense capacity a central pillar of her defense policy. She recently relaunched the
TIMELINE QUESTIONS: Chen Shih-chung said: ‘If anyone could assure us that we could get the shots in the first quarter of next year, we could set off firecrackers’ Taiwan has secured nearly 15 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday, as it reported five new imported infections among travelers from Indonesia and the Philippines. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that Taiwan on Monday signed a procurement contract with a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer and paid a deposit to secure 10 million doses. It was the first contract finalized with a manufacturer and negotiations are under way with three other vaccine makers, Chen said. With the more than 4.6 million doses that can be obtained through the COVAX platform —