Hong Kong protests: Undemocratic, says China paper; could hurt economy, says World Bank

BEIJING (AFP) - The official mouthpiece of China's ruling Communist Party on Monday slammed pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as "driving democracy backwards", while state media continued to emphasise disruption caused by the protests.

The People's Daily renewed its criticism in three separate articles on the movement, primarily led by students and the Occupy Central group, which in recent days has seen tens of thousands of protesters bring parts of the global financial hub to a standstill.

"It is also a basic principle of democracy that a small minority not be permitted to violate public space and the public interest through illegal means," a commentator for the paper wrote. "From this perspective, the recent 'Occupy Central' movement in Hong Kong is completely counter to democratic principles, and is driving democracy backwards," it added. The articles, carried on the paper's fourth page, were less prominent than the paper's previous denunciations of the demonstrations, as protester numbers dwindled on the streets. China has repeatedly branded the demonstrations illegal, but Hong Kong's government offered the talks last week in a bid to end an impasse.

Meanwhile, the World Bank's chief Asia economist said on Monday that the protests in Hong Kong could hurt the city's economy - as well as China's - but the impact will depend on how long the "uncertainty" lasts. Mr Sudhir Shetty said the Bank was closely monitoring the events in Hong Kong. "Obviously we, like every other set of economic analysts, are looking very closely at the situation and following it and looking at its impact," he told reporters in Singapore.

"The impacts will be both on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region itself, their economy, but also in terms of the broader impact on the Chinese economy," he added.

"As of now, what we anticipate is obviously a greater impact on Hong Kong SAR - so slower growth in 2014 than was being anticipated earlier."

Mr Shetty added that "at this stage, our best estimates... are that there isn't as yet significant spillover to the broader Chinese economy, but it is still something that we and others will continue to watch".

The Bank does not have a forecast for Hong Kong's economic growth because it covers only developing economies.

But it forecast Chinese growth to ease to 7.4 per cent this year and 7.2 per cent in 2015 from 7.7 per cent last year.

Mr Shetty said Hong Kong is a "high-income" economy comparable to Taiwan.

"The only point I would make is that both the short-term impacts on growth as well as the more medium-term impact on its role as a financial centre will depend obviously very much on how the current uncertainty plays out," he said.

"Other things being equal, uncertainty is not a good thing for economic activity."

By Monday morning, numbers had fallen dramatically at the city's main protest sites, although many said they would return later in the day to resume their campaign for free elections.

The government was forced to shut its headquarters on Friday - leaving 3,000 civil servants at home - because of the massed ranks of protesters blocking the access roads.

The city's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying had insisted the offices must reopen on Monday, warning he would "take all necessary actions to restore social order".

There were ugly scenes a week ago when police unleashed tear gas on the crowds, but the action only galvanised more protesters to join.

The protesters are demanding the right to nominate who can run for election as the former British colony's next leader in 2017. China's Communist authorities insist that only pre-approved candidates will be able to run, which activists dismiss as "fake democracy".

State broadcaster China Central Television, which for much of last week imposed a near-blackout on coverage of the protests, devoted more than 10 minutes to Hong Kong in a Monday morning broadcast.

It showed government employees going back to work as well as interviews with several residents opposed to the protests and a local tour agency operator decrying the impact the demonstrations have had on his business.

But images of the protests themselves as well as international broadcasts of the demonstrations continued to be blacked out by China's censors.