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Radio Free Asia

Hong Kong's Political Crisis Reverberates Through Its Big-Name Brands

2019-08-22 -- Major banks in Hong Kong placed large advertisements in local newspapers on Thursday sending a clear signal of loyalty to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official line on anti-extradition protests that have rocked the city since early June.

HSBC said in its advertisement that it was "very concerned about recent social events, and strongly condemns any form of violence and behaviour that disrupts social order."

The bank called for dialogue to resolve the standoff over plans by the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to change Hong Kong's extradition laws to enable the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial under mainland China's justice system.

Similar ads were placed by the Bank of East Asia and Standard Chartered.

The Standard Chartered advertisement said it supported Lam's administration in its attempt to "effectively maintain social order and stability," in language reminiscent of Chinese state media reporting on the protests.

The Bank of East Asia called on Hong Kong's citizens to oppose violence, safeguard the rule of law, boost the economy and build "harmony."

The banks are the latest in a string of corporations to be caught up in the political crisis over the anti-extradition protests.

Amid a growing climate of fear, Hong Kong's flag-carrier Cathay Pacific Airways has seen a number of high-level resignations, including that of former CEO Rupert Hogg, as well as the firing of a pilot who said words of encouragement to the protest movement on landing in Hong Kong. Other staff members have been fired or resigned, without disclosing the reasons, in recent days.

The job losses at Cathay come after China's Civil Aviation Administration announced on Aug. 9 that any staff members who could be found to be linked to the anti-extradition protests would be banned from flying over Chinese airspace. Such flights represent a significant proportion of Cathay business.

Hong Kong media reports said Hogg had resigned after being asked to supply Beijing with a list of Cathay employees who supported the protests. Hogg had instead submitted a single name, his own, the unconfirmed reports said.

Staff members and Cathay and its China-facing subsidiary Cathay Dragon, have reported an atmosphere of fear inside both companies since Beijing's orders came down, with vigilante groups forming on social media to find and denounce employees who sympathize with the protests.

'Political storm' at Cathay

Civic Party lawmaker and resigned Cathay Pacific pilot Jeremy Tam has warned that more Hong Kong companies could become targets in the ongoing propaganda war being run by Beijing, and has described what is happening at Cathay Pacific as a "political storm."

Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmakers have warned that anyone crossing the border from Hong Kong into mainland China will likely have their personal belongings searched and their cell phones scanned for photos relating to the anti-extradition movement.

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki warned on Saturday that a number of Hong Kong residents had reported being searched in that way at a number of border crossing points, including the direct high-speed rail service from West Kowloon Station to Shenzhen and Guangzhou in mainland China.

Around half of the 700,000 people who move between Hong Kong and mainland China every day are Hong Kong residents.

Local media reports say that the inspection of mobile phones at the Shenzhen border started just after the Chinese government labeled the massive demonstrations -- sometimes numbering two million people -- in Hong Kong a "Color Revolution" against the ruling party.

Student unions are now calling for a two-week class boycott at the start of the new semester in early September, and have vowed to escalate their actions if the government fails to meet the five key demands of the anti-extradition movement.

Some 800 high school students held a rally in the downtown Central district on Thursday to reaffirm support for the five demands: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.

"I'm not worried [that this will affect my studies]," a student surnamed Hui told RFA at the rally. "My exams are my own affair, but Hong Kong is my home, and I have a responsibility to speak out."

"If I don't speak out now, how will the next generation be able to speak out? They won't even be allowed. I think everyone has to face up to this reality," she said.

Hui said she was in the first year of high school in 2014, during the pro-democracy Umbrella movement, also known as Occupy Central.

"The older generation in my family had to deal with the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. All we want is for the extradition amendments to be formally withdrawn," Hui said. "I am losing hope though, because when we raise our voices, the government doesn't listen."

Reported by Shen Hua for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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