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China denies report on plans to replace Hong Kong leader Lam

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government building in Hong Kong, on Oct. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Kyodo) -- China reiterated its support for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday, denying a Financial Times report that the central government is developing plans to replace the city's leader with an interim chief executive amid prolonged civil unrest.

"This is a political rumor with ulterior motives," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing while expressing China's firm support for Lam and the Hong Kong government in restoring order to the city.

The report, citing people briefed on the deliberations, names as possible successors Norman Chan, the former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority -- the city's equivalent of a central bank -- and Henry Tang, previously chief secretary for administration, the No. 2 post in the Hong Kong government.

An interim chief executive would be installed by next March if Chinese President Xi Jinping decides to go ahead with the plan, and that person would serve out Lam's remaining tenure through 2022, according to the report.

But the Chinese government hopes to see the situation in Hong Kong stabilized before a leadership change, out of concern that it would be seen as giving in to violence, according to the report.

The former British colony has seen its worst social unrest since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, ever since an unpopular bill to allow extraditions to mainland China sparked mass protests in June.

Although Lam in early September announced a plan to withdraw the bill from the Legislative Council, the protests have continued, with demands expanding to include democratic reform. It was finally withdrawn Wednesday.

Reuters reported in early September that during a closed-door meeting with the business community in late August, Lam said she would quit if she had a choice.

The report was based on a secret recording of the meeting, which the news agency also made public.

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