Hong Kong financial professionals denounce Chinese "interference"

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - A group of Hong Kong financial professionals said on Tuesday it had placed advertisements in major newspapers to press China's leaders to stop what its members decry as interference in the capitalist hub's affairs.

The 70-strong group in the sector, which normally shuns political statements, placed the advertisements in Wednesday's editions of the mass-circulation pro-democracy Apple Daily in Chinese and the Financial Times international daily in English.

They include a direct appeal to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the director of Beijing's liaison office in the city.

The appeal denounces what the group says are China's attempts to abandon the principle of "one country, two systems" under which the former British colony was allowed to maintain its capitalist system and fundamental freedoms of speech and assembly when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

The 10-point statement, obtained in advance by Reuters, urges Beijing to "allow Hong Kong people to rule Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy, and refrain from interfering in the administrative affairs of Hong Kong. "Since Hong Kong's reversion to the motherland, the Hong Kong government policies have increasingly fallen short of applying the principle of 'one country two systems' and the policy objectives of the Basic Law," it said, referring to the"mini-constitution" that governs Hong Kong's affairs.

The group also warned of the need to "eliminate all perception and possibility of a growth of a bribery culture".

The action is part of a series of protests planned throughout the summer by Occupy Central, which includes a threat to shut down Hong Kong's glitzy financial district if need be. Tens of thousands of protesters typically throng Hong Kong's streets on July 1, the anniversary of the Chinese 1997 takeover.

Hong Kong's government brands the movement as illegal and damaging to Hong Kong's reputation as a financial centre.

The protest movement focuses on demands for Beijing to abide by its promise to allow free universal suffrage in the election of local leaders in 2017. Resentment has grown at attempts by Chinese authorities to control which candidates can stand.

Beijing's Liaison Office has long been criticised by pro-democracy activists and politicians as the strategic base for China's multi-pronged yet low-profile campaign to influence Hong Kong and promote Beijing's interests in the city.

Au Lai-chong, an organiser of Wednesday's action, said she believed the campaign would be effective though many of her peers were wary of criticising the authorities. "We are usually what people perceive to be the silent majority," said Au, a fund house marketing executive. "So if now we start to stand up I hope others will take notice as well. The rule of law is one of the most important things in Hong Kong."