Hong Kong banks condemn violence, urge return of social order

HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia (BEA) all urged the restoration of social order.
HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia (BEA) all urged the restoration of social order.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • Some of Hong Kong's biggest banks have published full-page newspaper advertisements calling for the preservation of law and order in the Chinese territory and condemning violence, as weeks of pro-democracy protests show no sign of abating.

HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia (BEA), which yesterday published the advertisements in major newspapers in the Asian financial hub, all urged the restoration of social order.

Anger erupted in June over a now-suspended Bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to China for trial, but the unrest has since grown into one of the biggest populist 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" framework adopted after Hong Kong's return to China in 1997 but not enjoyed in China, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest.

Continuing protests could deepen the impact on the city's economy, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, BEA warned on Wednesday after reporting a 75 per cent plunge in its first-half net profit due to loan write-downs in China.

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

Standard Chartered said in yesterday's advertisements that the bank supported the Special Administrative Region's government to uphold social order and "guard the status of Hong Kong as an international financial centre".

HSBC said all parties must resolve their disagreements through communication rather than violence. Neither HSBC nor BEA referred to the government in their advertisements.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam reiterated on Tuesday that the extradition legislation was dead but has stopped short of withdrawing the Bill, as protesters have demanded.

 
 
 

Separately, several companies including KPMG, PwC and HSBC have told their staff not to speak on behalf of the company in public and to avoid disclosing anything about the firm on social media platforms.

Cathay Pacific Airways cautioned employees that misuse of social media platforms could be a breach of rules set by China's authorities. The airline was caught in the crisis earlier this month when China demanded that it suspend staff involved in the protest movement. The firm agreed, but has since been plunged into turmoil after CEO Rupert Hogg was replaced last week.

Mr Steve Vickers, CEO of political and corporate risk consultancy Steve Vickers & Associates, said: "The Chinese government doesn't see business as being separate from the state, and it has made it clear that if you want to do business in China, you had better toe the line."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2019, with the headline 'HK banks condemn violence, urge return of social order'. Print Edition | Subscribe