Carrie Lam Says Sanctions Won’t Help Hong Kong as Joshua Wong Meets Congress

Natalie Lung and Karen Leigh

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said sanctions would only complicate the city’s problems as prominent local activist Joshua Wong gets set to address U.S. lawmakers who are considering changes to special trade privileges for the financial hub.

“I uphold this principle of accountability, but at the moment it is all for us to see that Hong Kong is undergoing a very difficult situation,” Lam said Tuesday at a regular media briefing before a meeting of the city’s Executive Council. “And sanctions or punishment are not going to help lift Hong Kong out of this very difficult situation.”

“We need to work as a team, not only within a government but also with a community and a society at large to overcome the current difficulties,” she said.

The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China will hold a hearing on Hong Kong on Tuesday in Washington featuring testimony by Wong. Earlier this month, Lam pushed back against protester calls for the passage of U.S. legislation that would require annual assessments of whether the city 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.

Earlier this year, a U.S. government report said the city’s autonomy was “sufficient -- although diminished.”

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Wong, a prominent student leader of the city’s 2014 Occupy movement, served jail time for his involvement in those pro-democracy protests. Despite being rounded up with other well-known opposition voices late last month, neither he nor other activists have been seen as central figures in the recent unrest.

Starting Dialogue

The protests started in June in opposition to controversial legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China and widened into a broader movement against Beijing’s increasing grip on the city. They show no signs of stopping anytime soon, even after Lam scrapped the bill on Sept. 4.

Demonstrators and police battled again this weekend in the city center, with protesters throwing petrol bombs and setting subway station entrances ablaze, and police firing off tear gas and water cannons. Demonstrators have four more demands, including to pick and choose their leaders -- a request Beijing has rejected outright.

Lam said authorities would hold their first community dialogue session next week, after the South China Morning Post reported that the government had set up a “dialogue office” Monday on a “time-limited basis.”

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“Dialogue is better than resistance” Lam said. “This is an open dialogue platform to which we will invite people from all walks of life to come to express their views to us. This is because of our conviction that communication is far better than confrontation.”

Lam said members of the public can apply to attend the first meeting. She said the platform won’t restrict discussion topics. There was no time frame given for any further meetings.

(Adds information on Joshua Wong, U.S. legislation from fifth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Derek Wallbank.

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Leigh in Hong Kong at kleigh4@bloomberg.net;Natalie Lung in Hong Kong at flung6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net, Karen Leigh

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