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Hong Kong financiers challenge China in newspaper advert

High-rise buildings are pictured in the financial district of Hong Kong, on November 10, 2014/AFP

High-rise buildings are pictured in the financial district of Hong Kong, on November 10, 2014/AFP

HONG KONG, Jan 21- A group of pro democracy financiers in Hong Kong took out an advert in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday challenging China to respect the city’s autonomy and introduce free elections.

The advert which appeared in the newspaper’s Asia edition takes up a quarter page and lists “10 requests” to the Chinese Communist Party.

They include asking it to “refrain from interfering in the administrative affairs of Hong Kong” and to “establish a system of genuine universal suffrage” as well as defend the city’s freedoms.

The advert comes as tensions remain high after more than two months of rallies for fully free leadership elections ended in December, when protest camps were cleared.

Pro-democracy campaigners want the government to scrap political reform plans which they say would only deliver “fake democracy”.

Beijing has pledged that the city can elect its own leader for the first time in 2017, but says that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee. Hong Kong authorities insist that reforms to grant universal suffrage in the leadership elections must stick to China’s strict parameters.

“Three years ago, I was just like any other trader in Hong Kong. I didn’t care about politics but things have changed so much it is important for finance people to speak up and to stand together to fight for true democracy,” said hedge fund manager Edward Chin of new group HK Finance Monitor 2047, which took out the advert.

He added that a letter outlining the 10 points would also be sent to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The campaign group — which consists of 70 finance workers — grew out of a previous band of financiers and bankers who supported the Occupy Central campaigners who first galvanised support for civil disobedience over the election proposals.

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The group’s reference to 2047 in its title comes from the Sino-British joint declaration, signed before the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, which says that Hong Kong’s economy, freedoms and way of life will be protected for 50 years.

The advert appeared on page 25 of the Thursday edition of the Wall Street Journal and was flagged as a “political advertisement”.

“The economy is being hindered by the lack of democracy here,” said corporate governance activist David Webb, who is also part of the campaign group.

“Hong Kong has to start looking at whether we’re going to… preserve the current systems that we have, or whether we are now on the slippery slope of erosion and assimilation and absorption into the mainland system.”

The advert comes two days after the city hosted the Asian Financial Forum which saw high-profile international figures including finance ministers gather at Hong Kong’s convention centre.

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