Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's public relations attempt fails before it can begin

The city's economy is in danger if the government can't resolve its disputes with protesters

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong. Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong. Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Attempts by Hong Kong’s leadership to gloss over 100 days of protests in the city have been stalled by a refusal from public relations firms to act on the government's behalf.

The country’s leader Carrie Lam admitted on Tuesday that the firms responded that “the time is not right” as the violence and unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory have shown no sign of ending, Ms Lam said at a news conference. She didn’t give details on the firms or when they were approached.

The city’s reputation has likely been tarnished not just by the protests but also by what many view as the government’s slow response to the crisis.

“It would perhaps be not the most cost-effective way to use government resources to launch any campaign to rebuild Hong Kong’s reputation, but sooner or later, we will have to do it because I have every confidence in Hong Kong’s fundamentals,” Ms Lam said.

“The time will come for us to launch a major campaign to restore some of the damage done to Hong Kong’s reputation.”

Covering over the ructions in the city will be a difficult task as fighting in the streets continued this week. Scuffles erupted between rival political groups at the weekend as supporters of China clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators.

Fights have begun breaking out with increased frequency after pro-democracy supporters began holding impromptu singalongs of a popular protest anthem, and in return, pro-Beijing supporters have held rival gatherings to sing China's national anthem. On Monday the city reached the landmark of 100 days of protests.

Despite Ms Lam's September 4 climbdown on the extradition bill which started the demonstrations, pro-democracy protesters are showing no signs of slowing down. Instead they made renewed demands, including an amnesty for all those arrested during the turmoil, an independent inquiry into police violence and universal voting rights.

Constant rolling news of clashes with police deterring visitors and Ms Lam’s refusal to meet the other demands from the demonstrators aren’t helping the economy. Already reeling from the US-China trade war, Hong Kong is facing its first recession in years, with tourist arrivals plunging and businesses being hit by the unrest.

Ms Lam’s admission came as US politicians considered a bill designed to scare Beijing straight by requiring annual assessments of whether Hong Kong was sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to continue its special trading status and allow sanctions on Chinese officials.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is backed by some prominent American lawmakers, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying earlier this month that Congress would advance a bill supporting “democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the face of Beijing’s crackdown.” Revoking Hong Kong’s special trading status could devastate the city’s economy.

Updated: September 17, 2019 05:44 PM

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