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Hong Kong leader tells business figures that region will rebound from conflict

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Photo: Vincent Yu/AP

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has reassured foreign investors that the Asian financial hub can rebound from months of protests, despite no sign that the unrest will subside.

Ms Lam told a forum on China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative that Hong Kong is grappling with the double whammy of the prolonged US-Chinese trade war and the unrest involving mostly young demonstrators seeking democratic reforms.

Her promise last week to formally withdraw the extradition bill that sparked demonstrations since June failed to mollify protesters, whose demands have expanded to include direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.

The unrest has become increasingly violent and threatens the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s reputation as a global financial hub.

Clashes in Hong Kong Credit: Kin Cheung/AP

Ms Lam voiced confidence that rifts can be mended through government plans for dialogue and upholding the “one country, two systems” principle that gives Hong Kong some freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

“We can find a way back to reasoned discussion, to social stability… after all, Hong Kong has been built and rebuilt time and again on our indomitable resilience. Call it the spirit of Hong Kong and know that it will see us through,” she told the forum.

The protesters insist it is the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government that is undermining the “one country, two systems” principle.

Chinese officials at the forum urged a quick end to the violence.

Xie Feng, commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry in Hong Kong, repeated Beijing’s rhetoric that foreign “black hands” were behind the “extremist forces” challenging Chinese sovereignty.

“Foreign forces have intervened, distorting the truth, and trying to protect those in the wrong and let them get away with it. With this continuous intervention of black hands, violence cannot stop and the rule of law cannot be upheld,” he warned.

Mr Xia said deeper integration with mainland China through Belt and Road projects is the way forward for Hong Kong’s development.

More protests are planned this weekend. Bonnie Leung of the Civil Human Rights Front said it is waiting for police approval for a march on Sunday from the Causeway Bay shopping district to central Hong Kong.

Police banned the group’s August 31 march but protesters turned up anyway. Violent clashes erupted that night, with police storming a subway carriage and hitting passengers with batons and pepper spray.