HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam reassured foreign investors Wednesday that the Asian financial hub can rebound from months of protests, despite no sign that the unrest will subside.
Lam told a forum on China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative that Hong Kong is grappling with the double whammy of the prolonged U.S.-Chinese trade war and the unrest involving mostly young protesters seeking democratic reforms.
Her promise last week to formally withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the demonstrations in June failed to mollify protesters, whose demands have expanded to include direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability. The unrest has become increasingly violent and threatens the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s reputation as a global financial hub.
Lam voiced confidence that rifts can be mended through government plans for dialogue and upholding the “one country, two systems” principle that gives Hong Kong some freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“We can find a way back to reasoned discussion, to social stability … after all, Hong Kong has been built and rebuilt time and again on our indomitable resilience. Call it the spirit of Hong Kong and know that it will see us through,” she told the forum.
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, in Berlin to drum up European support, dismissed calls from Lam for dialogue as too late. Wong acknowledged that it may be too difficult to achieve the demands for more democratic freedom but noted that three decades ago “no one predicted the Berlin Wall would fall.”
“We shall continue our fight for democracy and freedom because we don’t accept Hong Kong being transformed into a police state,” he told reporters.
Protesters insist it is the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government that is undermining the “one country, two systems” principle.
Chinese officials at the forum urged a quick end to the violence.
Xie Feng, commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry in Hong Kong, repeated Beijing’s position that foreign “black hands” were behind the “extremist forces” that were challenging Chinese sovereignty.
“Foreign forces have intervened, distorting the truth, and trying to protect those in the wrong and let them get away with it. With this continuous intervention of black hands, violence cannot stop and the rule of law cannot be upheld,” he said.
Xia said deeper integration with mainland China through Belt and Road projects is the way forward for Hong Kong’s development.
Separately, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Wednesday that a Taiwanese man, Lee Meng-chu, is under investigation on suspicion of engaging in criminal activity harmful to national security. Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang didn’t give details. Lee disappeared last month after he reportedly sent his brother and a local Taiwanese mayor photos of Chinese paramilitary police massing equipment in Shenzhen, a mainland city across from Hong Kong.
The paramilitary police exercises sparked fears of a Chinese crackdown.
The government of Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers its own territory, strongly supports the Hong Kong protests as it resists Beijing’s push for unification. Ma told Taiwan to stop colluding with Hong Kong protesters and protecting them.
More protests are planned this weekend in the city.
Bonnie Leung of the Civil Human Rights Front said it is waiting for police approval for a march Sunday from the Causeway Bay shopping district to central Hong Kong. Police banned the group’s Aug. 31 march but protesters turned up anyway. Violent clashes erupted that night, with police storming a subway car and hitting passengers with batons and pepper spray.
The government has slammed radical protesters, but Leung said they were not out to hurt people but to “send symbolic messages” after peaceful rallies failed to move the government.
“Radical protesters, who we call braves, and peaceful protesters are fighting for the same goals. We want our freedom and rights for universal suffrage to be protected,” she said.
Clashes have become increasingly violent, with police firing tear gas and protesters vandalizing subway stations and blocking traffic. More than 1,300 people, including students, have been arrested since June.
Hong Kong’s casino queen, Pansy Ho, echoed the government’s condemnation of radical protesters at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Wednesday.
Ho, representing a local women’s group, told the U.N. body that Hong Kong has experienced 130 protests since June 9, of which she said over 110 ended in “unprovoked” violence and unlawful acts. She said teenagers have been indoctrinated with police hatred and anti-establishment beliefs at school, and many radicalized to become “front line riot fighters.”
Ho, who owns gaming and property businesses, said “promotion of hatred and violent extremism could only leave irreparable scars” in society.
Associated Press writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this story.