Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she has never considered tendering her resignation to China over the anti-government protests that have disrupted the city for three months.
The chief executive was asked repeatedly at a news briefing about a Reuters report on Monday citing leaked audio of her telling business leaders recently that she would quit if she had a choice.
“I have never tendered a resignation to the central people’s government. I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation … the choice of not resigning was my own choice,” Ms Lam told the news conference, when asked why Beijing refused to let her quit.
“I know it is not going to be an easy path, and that’s why I have said that I have not given myself the choice to take an easier path and that is to leave.”
She also condemned the recording and leaking of her comments from the private meeting as “unacceptable”.
Ms Lam was elected as Hong Kong’s chief executive by a pro-Beijing committee of Hong Kong elites, and the mainland government has spoken in support of her government and the city’s police force throughout the sometimes-violent protests.
The demonstrators, who have filled parks and streets regularly since early June, want democratic reforms to Hong Kong’s government and an independent inquiry into police actions against protesters.
Ms Lam has come in for withering criticism for pushing an extradition Bill which would allow Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. She has suspended the Bill, but the protesters want it withdrawn altogether.
Clashes between police and protesters have become increasingly violent, with demonstrators throwing petrol bombs and rods at officers in fresh weekend protests.
Authorities in turn have employed water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons.
More than 1,100 people have been detained.
Ms Lam said on Tuesday that the “one China, two systems” formula when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997 would be upheld.
The formula promised greater civil rights in Hong Kong than those afforded to mainland Chinese, but Hong Kong residents have expressed fears that those promises are being eroded.
Ms Lam also said that the Chinese government believes that the Hong Kong government can overcome the conflict on its own, without any interference.
Some have expressed fears that the Chinese military would crack down on the protests.
Ms Lam said she does not know how long it will take to end the civil disobedience but that she remains confident of restoring law and order.
The mostly young protesters say that a degree of violence is necessary to get the government’s attention after peaceful rallies were futile.
Ms Lam’s administration wants the violence to end before any fruitful dialogue can begin.
Tens of thousands of students, clad in gas masks and hard helmets along with their formal school uniforms, boycotted the first day of classes on Monday as part of a citywide strike.
Workers also took part in a rally at a public park adjacent to the government headquarters.
The prolonged protests have damaged Hong Kong’s economy amid a slowdown in the Chinese economy and its trade war with the United States.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, a central figure in the territory’s ongoing mass anti-Beijing protests, has urged Taiwanese people to hold their own demonstrations as they face growing pressure from China.
Mr Wong, secretary general of Hong Kong pro-democracy group Demosisto, arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for a series of events organised by local political groups.
Some activists in Hong Kong fear Chinese authorities will crack down on the protests ahead of National Day, which this year marks the 70th anniversary of Communist rule in China.
Beijing has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the two separated during a civil war in the 1940s, and has threatened the use of force, if needed, to unify the two sides.