Chief Executive Carrie Lam has maintained that she has never tried to resign, despite a leaked audio recording of her saying she would quit if she had a choice.

“Throughout this period… I have never tendered a resignation to the Central People’s Government. I have not even contemplated [discussing] a resignation with the Central People’s Government,” Lam told reporters before her regular Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.

“The choice of not resigning is my own choice.”

A leaked audio recording of Lam was published by Reuters on Monday evening, where she was heard saying that, if she had a choice, she would apologise and quit: “For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” she told business leaders. In June, Reuters reported that Beijing would not allow Lam to quit.

Lam on Tuesday did not challenge the authenticity of the recording, but said that the remarks were made at an off-the-record lunch meeting with business leaders.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“In a private session, I attempted to explain that, as an individual, given the very difficult circumstances, it might be an easy choice to leave,” she said. “But I told myself repeatedly in the last three months, that I and my team should stay on to help Hong Kong.”

Asked if her staff intentionally leaked the recording to gain sympathy, Lam said the allegation was “absolutely unfounded” and that she was “disappointed” her comments became public.

In the recording, Lam said that her room for political manoeuvring was “very limited” and that the anti-extradition bill crisis has escalated to a national level.

Lam’s ill-fated extradition bill would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to China, which lacks rights protections. Since June, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent displays of dissent over alleged police brutality, surveillanceBeijing’s encroachment and democracy.

Responding to a question about the city’s constitutional basis of “One Country, Two Systems,” Lam said neither Hong Kong nor China would stray from the arrangement.

‘PR show’

Activist Agnes Chow from the political group Demosisto said on Tuesday that it was hard to tell if the recording was a “PR show,” saying that it was not the first time Lam tried to sway public opinion with tears.

Agnes Chow. File photo:

Speaking at a radio programme, Chow added that the idea that Lam was unable to resign showed that Hong Kong’s fundamental political problem was its lack of autonomy.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin added that the central government’s policy of suppressing dissent will push the city deeper into the abyss, and that Lam should resign as a matter of conscience if she does not agree with her orders.

Both activists were arrested last Friday before being released on bail.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Hu Xijin, editor of the state-backed tabloid Global Times, accused Reuters of being “engaged in politics.”

“Its stories are to sabotage relations between HKSAR government and Beijing using journalism as a smoke screen,” he claimed on Twitter.

According to a poll last week, Lam’s popularity has plunged to a historic low. During the 2017 chief executive election campaign, Lam said: “If the mainstream opinion of Hong Kong people renders me unsuitable to serve as chief executive, I will resign.”

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Holmes Chan

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.