Hong Kong Democracy Protest Plan Worries Foreign Businesses

The Canadian, Indian and Italian chambers of commerce in Hong Kong joined brokers and executives in opposing a planned pro-democracy protest, publishing a letter that said the demonstrations may “cripple” businesses.

Organizers of Occupy Central, who are threatening to bring the business district to a standstill with protests if their demands for universal suffrage aren’t met, should rethink their plans and argue their case through other channels, the foreign chambers said in a quarter-page advertisement in the South China Morning Post newspaper today.

“We respect the fact that politics is part of community life here,” the groups said, “However, we cannot, and should not, sit idly by when political actions threaten to disrupt general business activity and with it, the livelihoods of Hong Kong’s workers and their families.”

Their comments come a day after China’s State Council, its cabinet, issued a white paper asserting national interests above those of Hong Kong, saying some people are “confused or lopsided” in their understanding of the autonomy conferred on the southern city by the Chinese government.

The debate over how to elect Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017 has divided the city, with former hedge-fund manager Edward Chin publishing an open letter in April calling for “genuine” universal suffrage while Chinese leaders said candidates must be vetted.

‘Cripple Commerce’

The advertisement today marks the first time that foreign business groups have publicly voiced their opposition to Occupy Central, adding their voices to executives including Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd.’s Li Ka-shing and Wharf Holdings Ltd.’s Peter Woo. The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the Hong Kong Bahrain Business Association were also among the signatories to the statement.

“Occupy Central could potentially cripple commerce in the Central Business District, impacting small local businesses and large multinational operations alike,” the groups said.

Hong Kong was granted its own legal system and autonomy over most matters for 50 years under a “One Country, Two Systems” policy after the U.K. returned the territory to China in 1997. The Chinese government also promised universal suffrage for the 2017 election.

White Paper

Debate over the process has intensified with some lawmakers and Occupy Central organizers demanding public nomination for the candidates. At least 100,000 people turned up on June 4 at a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, with some using the occasion to argue for democracy.

The white paper from China’s State Council said that Hong Kong must understand that its autonomy comes from the Chinese government and must maintain the nation’s interests.

“Some are even confused or lopsided in their understanding of ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ and the Basic Law,” the State Council said in the paper. “Many wrong views that are currently rife in Hong Kong concerning its economy, society and development of its political structure are attributable to this.”

The Basic Law is the city’s de-facto constitution.

The city completed a public consultation in May on the electoral reforms for 2017, and is expected to submit the proposals to Beijing for approval, before a second round of consultation.

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