Hong Kong's latest protest sees finance employees staging a flash mob

Chater Garden was turned into a sea of umbrellas as finance sector professionals carried out a “flash mob” at 7.15pm on Aug 1, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
A single yellow umbrella first lit up, as a signal to start the flash mob. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
The crowd then marched to International Financial Centre where they chanted and marched one round. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong finance staffers gathered in the city's central business district on Thursday (Aug 1) after work for a "flash mob" protest, the latest demonstration in a movement that's grown increasingly creative in the face of deepening unrest.

Hundreds of employees from companies across the banking and finance world filled Chater Garden on Thursday night, near the offices of major firms including HSBC Holdings, Goldman Sachs Group and Standard Chartered. They stood in the garden in the pouring rain, most still in office apparel, many holding umbrellas.

The crowd was mostly silent, but began chanting refrains toward the end of the nearly 30-minute event, including: "Bad cops, shameful" and "No rioters, only tyranny." Earlier this week, dozens of protesters arrested during weekend clashes with officers were charged with a colonial-era rioting charge that carries a 10-year prison sentence, drawing outrage from pro-democracy groups.

"While our companies may not encourage us to talk about politics, we should not be apathetic toward what happens around us," said Alfred, a flash mob volunteer and employee of a bank in the area, who declined to give his last name. "The whole issue has reached a point where we should all come out and do something."

The flash mob is the latest form of protest in weeks of rallies that began over opposition to legislation easing extraditions to mainland China and has widened to other demands, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam's resignation. Lam has said the Bill, which spooked the city's business community amid fears it threatened Hong Kong's reputation as a safe haven to operate, is "dead," but hasn't formally withdrawn it.

Hundreds of workers at 34 banks have joined calls for a citywide strike set to take place on Monday in protest of the government's handling of growing unrest, the South China Morning Post reported. Some 95 unions from the public and private sectors have also voiced support.

Protesters' tactics have in recent weeks included colourful message boards called Lennon Walls - named after a memorial created in Prague to honour Beatle John Lennon's message of peace - that have appeared in public spaces across the city.

The finance workers in Chater Garden welcomed the chance to publicly join them. "We seldom talk about political issues in the office because many colleagues support the government and may fear that the company would put pressure on them," said Molly Wong, who works in banking and has attended protests for the past two months.

The Asian financial hub is starting to grapple with the impact of protests on its economy. Retail sales by value dropped 6.7 per cent in June from a year earlier, the fifth straight month of declines, according to a government report Thursday - and more than the 1.9 per cent contraction forecast by economists.

"At a time like this, we shouldn't think about what industry we represent," said Ryan, who works in fund management and declined to give his last name. "It's about one's conscience, telling right from wrong while others are distorting the truth."

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