The Chinese government has dismissed reports that it is planning to replace Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam with a temporary leader.
The report, first published by the Financial Times on Wednesday, follows more than four months of increasingly violent anti-government, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, sparked by a controversial extradition bill that Lam’s government tried to introduce in June.
Speaking at her daily briefing Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the reports were a “political rumor (being spread with) ulterior motives.”
“The central government will firmly support and assist the chief executive and the SAR (Special Administrative Region) government in governing Hong Kong in accordance with law, and in stopping violence and chaos as soon as possible,” she said.
The Financial Times reported that Beijing was drafting up plans to name an “interim” replacement by March to hold the post until the end of Lam’s official term in 2022. Two candidates to replace Lam were reportedly Norman Chan, former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Chan, a former Hong Kong chief secretary.
Lam’s office told CNN it didn’t comment on “speculation.”
After a summer of unrest, thousands of protesters are still taking to Hong Kong’s streets every week — impacting the city’s economy and tourist numbers — despite Lam’s efforts to reduce tensions.
The current political crisis began in June after hundreds of thousands took to the streets to oppose a bill that would have legalized extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. Though the bill has since been withdrawn, the protests have continued, with some calling for Lam to step down, greater democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality.
It has also grown increasingly violent, with protesters attacking police with petrol bombs and makeshift weapons, and the force responding with tear gas and water cannon. Fights have also broken out between protesters and counter-demonstrators and critical passersby, many of whom have been savagely beaten by the crowds.
Businesses with connections to the government or China have become a target in recent weeks with protesters targeting mainland Chinese businesses and other symbols of China.
Lam has come in for heavy criticism over her handling of the protests. Polls of her performance have seen her ranked as the city’s least popular chief executive on record.
At a community forum held in September, she admitted that “a lot of people” had lost confidence in her, while one attendee called her a “cancer” on Hong Kong.