Hong Kong’s leader put up a strong defence of the city’s beleaguered police force on Thursday, questioning “puzzling” demands by anti-government protesters for its disbandment and saying the protesters would still have to seek its help in times of trouble.
Reaching out to the public in the second Facebook live session of her leadership, and the first in more than a year, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed hope that the violence would end soon and the city would return to normal.
She insisted that while the government had the responsibility to restore order and bring about reconciliation, Hongkongers would also have to support the police and say “no” to lawlessness.
Lam spent an hour on the Facebook live session, responding to internet users’ comments on her governance and her latest policy address.
The chief executive touched on various areas, including housing, land supply, health care, education and security, using social media for the first time since August last year to engage the public.
She was forced to unveil her policy blueprint on Wednesday by way of an unprecedented, pre-recorded video as opposition lawmakers blocked her from presenting it live in the Legislative Council.
On Thursday morning, Lam also faced a barrage of insults from opposition politicians for the second consecutive day, and 13 pan-democratic lawmakers were thrown out the chamber for disorderly conduct.
At its peak, more than 7,600 concurrent users were watching the live session. When it ended at 9pm, more than 11,600 users had reacted – 9,000 posted “angry-face” emojis, 2,000 “liked” what she had to say, and 600 expressed “love”.
The session racked up 49,000 comments, many of which reiterated the protesters’ favourite slogan: “Five demands, not one less!”
While Lam insisted that she could not back down on those demands, including the setting up of an independent inquiry into police conduct against protesters and amnesty for all those arrested so far, she made it a point to address a sixth demand – the disbandment of the police force.
“I’m puzzled when I hear this, because when there are public order and safety issues, such as theft or unfortunate attacks, people say they must ask police to follow up seriously,” she said.
“So police are playing a very important role, and we must support them in law enforcement.”
Lam also weighed in on the recent attack on Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, who has been organising the biggest anti-government rallies, saying her administration condemned all forms of violence, regardless of the background of the victim.
The chief executive expressed hope the public would not lose faith in the police force because of confrontations between officers and protesters or journalists.
In her policy blueprint, Lam put the focus firmly on housing as a root cause of public grievances, promising to find more land and improve livelihoods amid a worsening economy. But she offered no political solutions to restore order in a city rocked by more than four months of protest chaos.
“I also hope that Hong Kong can soon move on from this crisis … but we need everyone’s effort. If we show sympathy to violence, attackers will only act without hesitation,” Lam said when asked if Hong Kong would return to normal in the foreseeable future.
“The biggest responsibility is on the government, because we have the ability to enforce the law, prosecute and reconcile. If there are better ways to work on these aspects, I’m willing to take up the mission.”
There were chaotic scenes earlier in Legco when the chief executive arrived for the traditional question and answer session on her policy address.
Only three pro-establishment lawmakers were able to ask questions because of frequent interruptions by pan-democratic legislators, more than a dozen of whom were kicked out of the chamber.
People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen was removed after he chanted: “Hong Kong Hitler! No one will call you Carrie any more! Blood all over your hands!”
Speaking in a so-called citizens’ press conference on Thursday, two masked protesters said the policy address showed Lam had diagnosed the city’s situation wrongly.
“Lam and her cabinet still want to buy us off. That shows Lam is totally out of touch,” a protester said. “The root cause of our resistance is injustice. It is a political issue.”