Former democrat lawmaker Claudia Mo has hit back at comments by Chief Executive Carrie Lam expressing “no regret” at her administration’s handling of last year’s unrest.

Lam said on Tuesday it had been her duty as the city’s leader to “restore Hong Kong” from the chaos of “riots and violence.”

Carrie Lam. File Photo: GovHK.

Lam’s comments followed a weekend interview with the SCMP in which she said she did “not feel guilty” about the escalation of last year’s anti-extradition bill movement, which saw largely peaceful protests descend into months of fierce clashes with police.

Asked Tuesday whether her comments meant she shunned all responsibility for last year’s crisis, the city’s leader said the events of 2019 were “now very clear.”

“We were hit by riots and violence that… endangered not only the safety of this city but also national security. That’s why the various actions have to be taken to restore Hong Kong from the chaos that we have seen and that people have been suffering,” Lam told reporters.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

“As a Chief Executive I am leading the HKSAR government to restore Hong Kong from that chaos and for that, I have no regret. That is the duty of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.”

Mo criticised Lam’s claim that the city was “hit by riots,” saying that the leader bore the brunt of the responsibility for last year’s violence.

“But she was the one who started it all… we all understand the protesters, our young in particular, were retaliating, at least partly, against sheer police brutality at the time,” Mo told HKFP in a statement.

Claudia Mo holding a yellow umbrella last month. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

A report by a British policing expert last month detailed how the indiscriminate use of police force played a pivotal role in radicalising last year’s protest. The months-long demonstrations also saw hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers protest peacefully over the extradition law debacle and police behaviour.

The democrat added that Lam was ruling the city through oppression: “She is determined to rule this city with mere police force and using judicial means as her political weapon. Obstructing, illegal assembly, rioting… seems they can charge you with anything these days.”

Shifting attitude

Lam’s recent comments mark a shift in her attitude. Last year she had apologised and vowed to listen to the voice of the people.

Following a demonstration by hundreds of thousands in mid-June, Lam issued a “sincere” apology, saying she must shoulder “much of the responsibility” and that she “still had much to learn and do in better balancing diverse interests.”

A pro-democracy march held on January 1, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Three months after her promise to do better, Lam was heard in a leaked audio recording obtained by Reuters telling business leaders that if she were given the choice, she would step down. She also asked those present for their forgiveness, saying she had caused “unforgiveable havoc” to the city.

In a new year message last December, Lam told Hongkongers she would “listen humbly” to “find a new way forward.”

Correction 17:50: A previous version of this article quoted Mrs Lam as saying the events of 2019 were “not very clear.” In fact, Mrs Lam said “now very clear.”

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.