Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday that recent protests have escalated beyond their original demands, pushing the city to a “very dangerous situation.”

“Some radical elements have changed the nature of the protests: some defaced the national emblem, and others took down a national flag and threw it into the sea. They said they want to foment revolution, to ‘liberate’ Hong Kong,” Lam said.

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“These actions far exceeded the original political demands. These unlawful actions challenge national sovereignty and threaten One Country, Two Systems, and will destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

Accompanied by her top officials, Lam spoke at a press conference on Monday after two weeks of silence. Her remarks came after days of violent clashes and coincided with a general strike, which saw protesters disrupting transport across the city.

Lam condemned acts of violence and described protesters as using a “scorched earth” strategy.

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Carrie Lam meets the press on August 5. Photo: inmediahk.net.

“This type of method – which some have described as ‘mutual destruction’ – will push Hong Kong onto a path of no return,” she said. “Do we want to use the lives of seven million people and the future of Hong Kong as betting chips?”

Lam added that violence will only make the situation more intractable: “Our society has become unsafe and unstable. These are not things that can be easily rebuilt in a short time.”

As for the ongoing strike, the chief executive said that strikers should respect other people’s right to work. “Many workers live paycheck to paycheck, and those affected are grassroots families. There are many who want to go to work but were affected by the non-cooperation movement.”

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She said her administration was closely monitoring the situation, and will host cross-departmental press conferences when needed.

Police will also host daily press briefings – a move reminiscent of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement where the government adopted the same policy.

Asked why she made no public appearances for two weeks, Lam said that radical protesters would target her wherever she went and engage in “intimidation and bullying.” Event organisers would tell her not to attend, since her appearance would result in increased insurance premiums and manpower needs, Lam added.

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Protesters set up makeshift barricades in Kennedy Town. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

When asked about the protesters’ five core demands, Lam reiterated that the extradition amendment bill was “suspended” and that the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) has already begun an investigation into recent protests. Demonstrators, however, have demanded the bill be fully axed and an investigation be fully independent of the police.

She added that she had no power to unilaterally order the release of arrested protesters, as the authority lies with prosecutors at the Department of Justice.

Top officials speak

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung also expressed regret regarding the general strike, saying that “strikes and violence bring no benefit to Hong Kong at all.”

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Protesters blocked off the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in Causeway Bay on August 4. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

He called on the public to remain steadfast at their posts, and urged employers to be flexible in their treatment of employees who are late to work.

Finance chief Paul Chan reported that Hong Kong’s GDP growth in the second quarter of the year was similar to that of the first quarter. However, if there was negative growth in the third quarter, the city’s economy would be in decline.

“Hong Kong’s economy is facing a challenging environment with a lot of downward pressure. With the US-China trade frictions heating up, external uncertainties and internal difficulties, Hong Kong’s local economy has been affected by recent events,” Chan said.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.