The demonstrators in Hong Kong, who have been battling the police and government for over two months, are showing their resolve as they staged a mass sit-in at the Hong Kong Airport resulting in the cancellation of over 300 flights Tuesday. The anti-government protesters have promised that they will return.

Also Tuesday, beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam spoke to the media and appeared to be fighting back tears. She said, “Hong Kong is seriously wounded. It will take a long time to recover.” And asked if the protesters wanted to “push Hong Kong into an abyss."

Lam made a direct appeal to those who have demanded that she step down and said, “Let’s set aside differences and spend one minute to look at our city and our home. Could we bear to push it into an abyss where everything will perish?”  Her response to the airport’s closure was, “There is no need for me to elaborate on how important the international airport is to Hong Kong. Every day, a lot of residents go out and return to the city [through the airport], and many tourists and businesspeople use this transport hub. But it had to close down on Monday.”

When asked if she would resign, Lam sidestepped the question by saying, “I, as chief executive, will be responsible for rebuilding Hong Kong’s economy and to engage as widely as possible, to listen as attentively as possible to people’s grievances, and try to help Hong Kong to move on. That's my very serious political commitment and my responsibility to the people of Hong Kong at this point in time.”

No. 4	Hong Kong International Airport No. 4 Hong Kong International Airport Photo: Reuters

The original cause of the demonstrations, an extradition bill that has been put on the shelf but not formally withdrawn, seems lost in the shuffle with new and larger demands. The Chinese have the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong ready for deployment if ordered by Beijing, and that would certainly have deep consequences.

While Lam’s statements support the government, the feeling of the common person in Hong Kong was expressed by Lillian Kok. She is a retiree from Tai Po (a Hong Kong district) and arrived almost six hours early for a 3 p.m. flight to Malaysia. Kok questioned protesters’ tactics and said, “I don’t mind the protests; it’s OK to have demands. When we were young, we sat [protesting] for hours in Victoria Park but then we would leave. But the airport is the city’s gate. What will people think when they arrive and see this?”

Hong Kong’s reputation as a tourist attraction and a financial center is at risk if the violence at airports, train stations and government buildings continues to escalate.