Breaking ten days of silence since making a public apology last week, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam resurfaced on June 28 to meet with pro-Beijing politicians.
The embattled chief executive on Thursday held a private meeting with a dozen community leaders from the Friends of Hong Kong Association, a pro-Beijing group, after an earlier meeting with four representatives from the police union, Hong Kong Economic Times (HKET) reported on June 28.
According to Hong Kong media, Lam made remarks backing the city’s police force, which recently came under fire for using excessive force to disperse protesters, who opposed a proposed extradition bill that would allow mainland China to seek extradition of any individual wanted by the Chinese regime.
After widespread public outcry against the bill, Lam announced on June 15 that the bill would be indefinitely suspended.
But many Hongkongers want the bill to be fully withdrawn and have continued to stage protests throughout the city.
The closed-door discussions came after roughly a thousand protesters sieged the police headquarters for the second time in a week on Wednesday night. The protesters stayed for six hours before police moved to disperse them.
They demanded that previous police characterizations of protests as “riots” to be retracted; protesters who were arrested not to be prosecuted; and for an independent inquiry into police use of force to be established.
At a mass demonstration outside the city’s legislature on June 12, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, causing 81 injuries. The human rights group Amnesty International has issued an analysis of footage from the scene, calling the use of force “unlawful,” “unnecessary,” and “excessive.”
Police arrested 32 protesters between June 12 and 17, with five of them on suspicion of rioting offenses, which is punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. Formal charges have not been filed.
Eight cases related to minor offenses were later dropped due to insufficient evidence, according to police.
Insiders revealed to Hong Kong Economic Times (HKET) that during the closed-door meeting with pro-Beijing politicians, Lam doubled down on rejecting the protesters’ demands. She had said in previous public remarks that the government would not establish an independent committee to examine the June 12 incident, despite the public’s demand, as such investigations would target the police in an unfair manner.
Lam also stressed her refusal to step down, citing solid backing from Beijing, according to HKET.
Lam’s office issued a statement on June 27 about her meeting with police union leaders earlier on Thursday, in which it emphasized Lam’s backing of the police force.
“[Lam] and her government will continue to give their full support for the force,” the statement read, adding that Lam praised the police for its “carrying out law enforcement impartially against illegal activities and continuing to serve the community.”
Meanwhile, Lam’s popularity has slumped to an all-time low in the past two weeks, according to poll results released on June 25 by the University of Hong Kong (HKU).
Her approval ratings, based on responses from 1,015 Hong Kong residents, sits at 23 percent—a 20-percent plunge from just two weeks ago. Meanwhile, her disapproval rating has skyrocketed to 67 percent.
Lam’s current approval ratings are an all-time low since she took office in 2017, and a historic low among all former Hong Kong chief executives’ since 1992, when the question about the leaders was first asked.
“The rallies, protests, and related controversies as a result of the amendments of the extradition bill appear to have affected public opinion to a fairly large extent,” HKU said in its poll analysis.
Meanwhile, the approval rating of the Hong Kong government as a whole slumped to 18 percent, a record low since July 2003. The disapproval rating rose to 72 percent.