Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she has caused "unforgivable havoc" and would quit if she had a choice, according to leaked audio obtained by Reuters.
Lam made the remarks last week to a group of businesspeople.
At the closed-door meeting, Lam told the group that she now has "very limited" room to resolve the crisis because the unrest has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China amid rising tensions with the United States.
"If I have a choice," she said, speaking in English, "the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology."
Lam's dramatic remarks offer the clearest view yet into the thinking of the Chinese leadership as it navigates the unrest in Hong Kong, the biggest political crisis to grip the country since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Lam suggested that Beijing had not yet reached a turning point. She said Beijing had not imposed any deadline for ending the crisis ahead of National Day celebrations scheduled for October 1. And she said China had "absolutely no plan" to deploy People's Liberation Army troops on Hong Kong streets.
Lam noted, however, that she had few options once an issue had been elevated "to a national level," a reference to the leadership in Beijing, "to a sort of sovereignty and security level, let alone in the midst of this sort of unprecedented tension between the two big economies in the world."
In such a situation, she added, "the room, the political room for the chief executive who, unfortunately, has to serve two masters by constitution, that is the central people's government and the people of Hong Kong, that political room for manoeuvring is very, very, very limited."