Wednesday 18 September 2019

Firms take out ads seeking end to 'harmful' Hong Kong protests

As protests hit economy, financial giants want return to order

Masked opposition: School students demonstrate at Edinburgh Place, Hong Kong, yesterday as they debate political reform. Photo: Vincent Yu/AP
Masked opposition: School students demonstrate at Edinburgh Place, Hong Kong, yesterday as they debate political reform. Photo: Vincent Yu/AP

Twinnie Siu

Hong Kong banks have called for law and order to be restored in the city as a huge jewellery trade fair faced postponement because of continuing pro-democracy street protests.

HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia took out full-page newspaper adverts to make their point, saying ongoing disruption was harming the financial hub's status.

"Oppose violence, restore social order, safeguard Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre," Standard Chartered said in its advert.

Meanwhile, representatives of the world's largest diamond trading centres asked the organiser of the Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair to postpone next month's event, which typically draws more than 54,000 visitors.

In a letter, they told Informa Markets 30-40pc of exhibitors were demanding to pull out.

"In light of recent events … rather than risking an empty show in terms of both visitors and exhibitors, postpone the show to a later date - as yet to be determined - once Hong Kong is in a more stable climate," they wrote.

They also requested compensation in the form of discount or refunds for participants.

The developments came as thousands of demonstrators held a scrappy anti-government protest at a suburban subway station where demonstrators were attacked by a mob of white-shirted men last month.

Protesters at the subway station said they were angry nobody had yet been prosecuted for that violence. Police said they charged two men with rioting in connection with the July attack, and they will appear in court today.

The standoff stopped short of recent intense clashes, with police refraining from using tear gas or attempting to storm protesters' lines. Police said they arrested two men for unlawful assembly.

Protests erupted in June over a bill, now suspended, that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

They have since grown into one of the biggest challenges faced by Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.

The unrest has been fuelled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula adopted after the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.

The protests are already exacting a toll on the economy and tourism, with the city on the verge of its first recession in a decade.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association, which represents more than 8,000 businesses, has urged all landlords to halve rents for six months.

"If the situation continues, it is expected that many retailers may have to sack staff or even shut down," it said in a statement.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has stressed the extradition legislation is dead but has stopped short of officially withdrawing the bill, as protesters have demanded.

Demonstrators are also calling for an independent inquiry into the protests and perceived police brutality, the waiver of charges against those arrested, and resumption of political reform.

Beijing has reacted sharply to the protests and accused foreign countries, including the US, of fomenting unrest.

China has also sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills in neighbouring Shenzhen.

An employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong has been detained in China for involvement in prostitution, the state-backed 'Global Times' newspaper said. Britain has expressed its extreme concern about the case.

US President Donald Trump has warned against a crackdown in Hong Kong like Beijing's suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, which he said would make reaching a deal on trade with China "very hard".

Irish Independent

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