Hong Kong – Committed after three months of increasingly violent street protests, Hong Kong's chief executive said on Tuesday morning that her emotions were in turmoil but that she had not resigned and had no intention of resigning.
"Even if my personal emotions fluctuate significantly, the ultimate decision is with respect to Hong Kong citizens and whether I can help Hong Kong citizens and help Hong Kong overcome this plight," said CEO Kari Lam during her weekly news
Top officials in Hong Kong and Beijing advisers say for weeks that Ms. Lam is deeply dissatisfied with her job, but that Beijing's leaders will not allow her to resign, even if she decides she wants to to do it. [1
Lau Siou-kai, Vice-President of the Hong Kong-Macao Chinese Research Association, a semi-official consultative body set up by Beijing, said : "Once things are established, there may be a reconfiguration of the leadership team. But this what is happening now is seen by Beijing as a sign of weakness that would lead to more unrest. "
After a summer of protests that began with huge marches and turned into battles on the streets and subways between masked protesters and the police, Ms. Lam remained a very personal target for the demonstrators, attacking her for having tabled a bill earlier this year that would allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited to the opaque and often harsh judicial system of mainland China.
One of the five protesters' requests is for Ms. Lam to resign and be elected heir by universal suffrage. In an audio recording of a closed-door meeting last week between Ms Lam and local businessmen who had leaked to Reuters, Ms Lam is heard saying she longs to resign.
But one of the main obstacles to this is that it lacks an obvious heir to rule this scary, semi-autonomous territory of China. Beijing is also opposed to allowing a general election to which Democratic candidates could run.
In the 22 years since Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, Chinese leaders have alternated between electing strong pro-Beijing business leaders and more moderately political former British government officials. Prior to becoming CEO two years ago, Ms. Lam was a lifelong civil servant in Hong Kong, rising to the second highest job in the Secretary-General's territory.
This means that the pro-Beijing faction, which tends to take a much firmer stance against protesters against democracy, is due to the supply of the next CEO. But many people who have been involved in discussions about consistency over the past month have said that the choice is far from easy.
All four Hong Kong leaders so far, including Ms Lam, have been in serious political trouble. This makes it harder to predict who Beijing can choose next.
Beijing discouraged the Hong Kong government from accepting definitively any of the five broader requests made by protesters, although the government took small steps to partially meet some of
"Things have gone beyond the so-called Hong Kong government jurisdiction – even though all the work was triggered by Kari Lam – to become something Beijing has to deal with, "Mr. Lau
Beijing's favorite choice and successor, evident by early summer, was the city's financial secretary and third positions Officer Paul Chan, said people familiar with the selection process. These people demanded anonymity because of political sensitivity about discussing the matter before Beijing made a decision.
Mr. Chan is a longtime accountant and protégé of Leung Chun Ying, a fierce pro-Beijing surveyor who was the predecessor of Ms. Lam as Hong Kong's CEO.
But political acromia and violence in Hong Kong caused serious injuries to Mr. Chiang's chances, said two people familiar with Beijing's selection process. Although skilled in small groups, Mr. Chan is a quiet businessman with limited experience in dealing with the crowd and the general public – the skills needed.
Mr. Chan declined multiple requests this summer for an interview.
Another option for Beijing, if it wants a business leader, seems to be Bernard Chan, convener of Ms. Lam's Executive Board. But Mr Chan, president of the Hong Kong-based insurance company, insists he has no desire to become CEO.
"I have a business to run," he says in a phone interview. "I'm not ready to give up my business."
If Chinese leader Xi Jinping does not continue to alternate business leaders and top officials in Hong Kong, he has at least half a dozen and former government officials to choose from .
Two of the former CEOs are former secretaries-general: Ms. Lam and Donald Tsang. But current Secretary-General Matthew Cheung, a middle-aged 68-year-old who is nearing retirement, has not shown any public interest in moving up.
Mr. Cheun declined to be interviewed. The office sent him a brief statement when asked this summer about his political future: "We do not answer speculative questions," he said, adding that Mr. Cheung "is fully and wholeheartedly committed to serving the people of Hong Kong and propels the living Hong Kong forward. "
If Ms. Lam had been allowed by Beijing to resign, Mr. Cheung would have become CEO. If she resigns for more than six months in her term of office, which continues until the end of June 2022, a successor will be selected to serve the remainder of her term.
In 2017, Lam will meet and vote on a candidate and the winner will be determined by Mr. Xi to rule Hong Kong. The 1200-member commission is dominated by pro-Russian politicians.
Emily Lau, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, said democracy advocates hope Beijing can elect Edward Yau, who is Hong Kong's secretary of trade and economic development and previously secretary of the environment. When asked if he could ask for a job, Mr. Yau answered emphatically "No!"
Several other former Hong Kong government officials have had high approval ratings over the years in Hong Kong University polls, including Henry Tang, former chief secretary, and John Tsang, former finance secretary. Another option is Norman Chan, who is stepping down this fall after a decade as CEO of the Hong Kong Central Bank
but these former government officials may not have enough ties in Beijing to get elected. Mr Tang, who is most frequently mentioned as a possible successor and who unsuccessfully sought to become CEO in 2012, said through a spokesman that he supported Ms Lam and did not intend to seek the post again.  This leaves Regina Ip. She leads the pro-Beijing party, the New People Party, which is popular with unwavering defenders of law and order.
Mrs. Ip is one of the few pro-Beijing politicians to win a seat in the general election instead of being nominated by industry or another special interest group. She is also a former senior civil servant with extensive experience.
But as security secretary in 2003, Ms. Yip helped carry out unsuccessful efforts to pass strict legislation that would allow irresponsible police searches during security emergencies and would allow
in a recent interview, Ms. Yip stated that Hong Kong needed social and economic reforms. But she said the rapid progress of universal suffrage was not possible under the Hong Kong mini-constitution, a position strongly opposed by Democratic activists. She declined to discuss her political ambitions.
Bonnie Long, Vice President of the Civic Front for Human Rights, said that if Beijing elects Ms. Yip, it could help Democratic activists raise even bigger crowds of concerns that it would further introduce
But Ms Leung said that Ms Ip's legislative experience could also make her more responsive to public sentiment than any of the alternatives.
"After what happened in 2003, I believe she learned a lesson," said Ms. Leung. "It would respond more reasonably to people's voices."
The lack of a clear heir makes it even more difficult for Ms. Lam to step down.
"I did not even consider resigning with the Central People's Government," Ms. Lam said on Tuesday, referring to China's national government in Beijing. "The choice not to resign is my own choice."