By Martin Howell and James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Friday she shares the compassion of people over the death of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and acknowledged “anxieties” about “incidents” in the former British colony that can potentially erode its autonomy.
Lam was speaking in her first interview with the international media since she was sworn in as the city’s new leader by Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 1.
“Hong Kong people are always very compassionate and so I share that compassion of many Hong Kong people by sending my condolences to the wife and the family of Mr Liu,” Lam, a devout Catholic, told a Reuters Newsmaker event in Hong Kong.
Chinese officials have long branded Liu as a “subversive” so such comments are unusual and the only sympathetic remarks so far from a Beijing-backed leader regarding his death.
Liu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his efforts to promote democracy in China, died on Thursday at the age of 61 of multiple organ failure while in detention [L4N1K51AG].
Liu was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power”.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It enjoys wide-ranging freedoms not granted in mainland China, a promise of full democracy at some future date, and an independent judiciary under a so-called “one country, two systems” formula.
But the abduction by mainland agents of Hong Kong booksellers who had published critical books on China, and Beijing’s efforts to disqualify democratically elected, pro-independence lawmakers in the local legislature, have rattled confidence in that arrangement.
‘ANXIETIES AND PERCEPTION’
In a wide-ranging interview, Lam acknowledged concerns about certain “individual incidents” in the city. She said it was her duty to accurately reflect them to the central government in Beijing.
“I would say there are worries, there are anxieties, there is a strong perception over individual isolated incidents, but unless you’ve got evidence to prove there are clear breaches then it will remain at the level of anxieties and perception,” Lam said, without elaborating.
She did say, however, police were still investigating the booksellers’ cases.
Britain called the cases a “serious breach” of the Joint Declaration — the 1984 treaty that paved the way for Hong Kong’s return to China — and said one of the booksellers, a British passport holder, had been removed from Hong Kong “under duress”.
Hong Kong’s high court on Friday removed four opposition lawmakers from the city’s legislative council for failing to sincerely take the oath of office, in a significant blow to the opposition that could weaken its one-third veto bloc in the 70-seat assembly. [L4N1K43NH]
While the lawsuit had been initiated by her predecessor, Lam said she wouldn’t intervene in the case
“Building bridges still has to be done in a lawful way. I don’t think this CE (chief executive) or any government official should…