By Shirley Zhao
Hong Kong’s corporate elite have come off the sidelines to oppose the violent protests that have disrupted businesses in the city and slashed billions of dollars off their market value.
In full- and half-page newspaper advertisements Wednesday and yesterday, conglomerates including those founded by 91-year-old Li Ka-shing, the city’s richest person, and Henry Cheng, who runs a property-to-jewellery empire, called for restoring order and rule of law. Some supported the city’s Beijing-backed authorities in their efforts to quell the unrest.
What started as protests over an extradition bill more than two months ago have widened into ongoing demonstrations against Beijing’s tightening grip on the semi-autonomous Chinese city. At least seven companies, all of them among the 10 worst performers on the benchmark Hang Seng Index over the past month, placed the ads after the unrest crippled Asia’s financial hub.
“Save the economy, safeguard livelihood,” said the advertisement by Mr Cheng’s New World Development, which has won a contract to build a HK$20bn (€2.3bn) shopping-and-entertainment complex at Hong Kong’s international airport. Mr Li’s CK Group ad urged readers to: “Rebuild a harmonious society.”
The notice by Henderson Land Development, one of the city’s largest developers, asked: “Would a collapsed Hong Kong benefit you or your family?”
Since July 19, at least $29bn (€26bn) in market value has been wiped off the five flagship companies belonging to the CK group, Sun Hung Kai Properties, Henderson and New World, which runs Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group.
Tycoons with companies trading in Hong Kong have also absorbed losses, with the 10 wealthiest seeing their combined fortunes drop by about $28bn since the unrest began.
Hui Ka Yan, founder of property developer China Evergrande Group, has seen his net worth dip $4.5bn to $29.6bn. The wealth of CK’s Li has declined by $3.9bn to $30.6bn, the index shows.
Nisha Gopalan Land and casino billionaire Lui Che-woo took out full-page advertisements yesterday in major local newspapers, praising China’s rise and its support of Hong Kong, urging young protesters to calm down and calling on the government to solve deep-rooted social problems such as unaffordable housing.
“I am especially saddened and find it hard to bear,” said Mr Lui, founder of casino operator Galaxy Entertainment and property developer K Wah International Holdings.
Sino Land Company placed a newspaper ad as well.
Demonstrators who initially marched to oppose the now-shelved bill that would’ve allowed extradition to the mainland have added demands including investigation of police behaviour during the protests and the resignation of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.
Clashes with protesters have led police to fire tear gas and rubber bullets. Earlier this week, protesters disrupted travel at Asia’s busiest airport by swarming the regional aviation hub. Chinese officials have said the protesters “acted like terrorists,” stoking concern that Beijing may mobilise troops or take other actions. In recent days, the demonstrators beat and detained two individuals they called infiltrators.
Other groups that placed the ads include Swire Pacific, the parent of the city’s flagship air carrier Cathay Pacific. In a separate statement this week, Swire said it “resolutely” supports the efforts of Hong Kong’s government and police to restore law and order.
Jardine Matheson Holdings, the conglomerate with deep roots in the city but listed in Singapore, echoed Swire’s comments.