HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam scrapped a meeting with US Senator Ted Cruz, the highest-profile US politician to visit the city since protests broke out more than four months ago, the senator said on Saturday (Oct 12).
Lam's office had requested that the afternoon meeting be completely confidential and that Cruz refrain from speaking with the media about it, Cruz told journalists in Hong Kong.
"She seems to misunderstand how free speech operates, and also how freedom of the press operates," said Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas and a vocal critic of China who was stopping in Hong Kong for two days as part of a regional tour.
"Ms Lam's cancelling the meeting is not a sign of strength. It's a sign of weakness. It's a sign of fear of the protesters in the streets of Hong Kong."
Responding to a request for details about the scheduled meeting, Lam's office said in an email: "The Chief Executive did not meet with the said US Senator."
For months Hong Kong has been paralyzed by unprecedented protests calling for democracy and against police brutality.
The former British colony was returned to China in 1997 and promised broad autonomy for 50 years under a "one country, two systems" model. But many in Hong Kong accuse Beijing of eroding its freedoms.
On Saturday, demonstrators took to the streets again, and the government said petrol bombs were thrown inside a Hong Kong metro station.
"I stand with the people of Hong Kong calling on the government of China to honor the promises it made to the world when it promised to maintain political freedom in Hong Kong," said Cruz, who wore black to show support for the black-clad protest movement.
Asked if he condemned violence that has flared during the protests, Cruz said he advocated non-violent protest with the protesters and democracy activists he had met.
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Cruz said he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping was "terrified of millions of people in Hong Kong, but even more than that, millions of people in China yearning to live free".
Those fears were "magnified on the world stage" by China's response to a tweet by a US basketball executive supporting Hong Kong's protesters, he said.
China has accused the West of stirring up anti-Beijing sentiment in Hong Kong, and Chinese state media characterized the Houston Rockets general manager's tweet as the latest example of meddling in China's affairs.