Chinese President Xi Jinping praised Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s leadership and hard work during a surprise meeting in Shanghai Monday, despite months of violent protests on her watch.
Xi and Lam were in Shanghai for the 2019 China International Import Expo, where Xi is expected to make a speech on Tuesday. Neither leader had announced the meeting was planned before it took place.
State-run news agency Xinhua said Xi had demanded “unswerving efforts” to end the violence in the Asian financial hub and punish those responsible “to safeguard the well-being of the general public in Hong Kong.”
The Asian financial hub is in its fifth month of demonstrations that began in June over a controversial China extradition bill. The unrest has plunged the former British colony into a recession and damaged the tourism industry.
A total of 325 people were arrested on protest-related charges during the latest spate of violence at the weekend, Hong Kong police said.
Protesters shut down major roads and disrupted public transport. Some protesters also firebombed Xinhua’s Hong Kong headquarters – an act condemned as “barbaric” in a statement by the state-run news agency.
The Chinese government last month dismissed reports that it was planning to remove Lam from her role early in 2020 due to widespread dissatisfaction over her handling of the protests.
In a news conference after a major government meeting in late October, senior Chinese official Shen Chunyao said Beijing had plans to “improve” the system by which Hong Kong’s leader is appointed or removed.
But the Chinese government denied it was looking to replace Lam and has repeatedly backed her handling of the protests.
During his meeting with Lam Monday, Xi said the Hong Kong chief executive had led her government “to fully discharge its duties, strive to stabilize the situation and improve the social atmosphere, and has done a lot of hard work,” according to Xinhua.
“Xi voiced the central government’s high degree of trust in Lam and full acknowledgment of the work of her and her governance team,” the news agency said.
On top of a crackdown on violence, Xi also called for more effective efforts to hold “dialogue with all sectors of the society and improve people’s livelihood.”