Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Hong Kong - Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday denied reports that she would resign if she could as the city faced its worst political crisis since its return to Chinese rule in 1997. 

"Until now, I have never tendered a resignation to the central people's government," Lam said, referring to China's top leadership in Beijing. 

"I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation with the central people's government."

Lam's comments come the day after a leaked audio recording of remarks she made to business leaders in a closed-door meeting were published by the Reuters news agency.

In the audio, Lam can be heard saying that for a "chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable. If I have a choice the first thing [to do] is to quit."

Addressing questions about the recording, Lam said she was very "disappointed" the audio had been shared and was misunderstood.

"I attempted to explain that as an individual, given the very difficult circumstances, it might be an easy choice to leave, but I have told myself repeatedly in the last two months that I and my team should stay on to help Hong Kong," she said. 

The story follows a similar report in the Financial Times in mid-July that said Lam had tried to resign on several occasions but had been denied by Beijing. 

Lam has become a target of anti-government protests that have roiled the Asian financial hub since June after she championed a bill that would allow for residents to be extradited to mainland China. 

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is a semi-autonomous city that in 1997 Beijing promised special rights and privileges to for a period of 50 years.

dpa