Bank of China Has a Message for Hong Kong: ‘Stop the Violence, Contain Chaos’

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(Bloomberg) -- “Stop the violence, contain chaos, restore order.” The terse message in a full-page advertisement from Bank of China Ltd.’s units in Hong Kong greeted local residents on Friday while the city braced for another weekend of unrest.

Printed in the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper, the ad with the state-backed lender’s red logo at the bottom also urged readers to “support Hong Kong’s chief executive” and “support the police force.”

Bank of China Has a Message for Hong Kong: ‘Stop the Violence, Contain Chaos’

The public criticism of Hong Kong’s protesters by one of China’s largest financial institutions comes at a time when Beijing is attempting to quell one of the most significant challenges to its authority. The newspaper on Friday carried more than a dozen other similar messages from Chinese trade groups voicing support for their government.

“Anyone challenging sovereignty and destroying the ‘one country, two systems’ principle is absolutely not allowed,” the ad declared, echoing recent comments from Chinese authorities.

Representatives for Bank of China’s Hong Kong units didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The protests initially began in opposition to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China and have since expanded into broad complaints about the Beijing-backed government. Increasing clashes between demonstrators and police have prompted calls for an investigation into authorities’ use of force, while others want a more general probe of the unrest and its causes. More protests are planned for this weekend.

Earlier this month, the Hong Kong units of banks including Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. issued memos to their staff, warning them to avoid unauthorized activities. A representative for ICBC’s Hong Kong unit declined to comment.

“If found to be participating in activities that go against employee guidelines, the company will take relevant disciplinary action,” Chinese brokerage Haitong International Securities Group Ltd. said in an internal memo in Hong Kong on Aug. 1. A Haitong International spokeswoman confirmed the contents of the memo.

An employee of a large Chinese bank in Hong Kong, who asked not to be named, said the controversy about the extradition bill has polarized opinion in an office that generally stays away from politics. Management has been issuing verbal and email warnings since early June, and threatened that staff benefits could be taken away from those participating in the protests, while supervisors asked for a list of all employees absent on Aug. 5, the day Hong Kong protesters organized a city-wide strike, the bank employee said.

Western financial firms have taken a different approach. BNP Paribas SA allowed its staff to work from home amid the strike and Citigroup Inc. told employees the firm does “respect and embrace the freedom of speech and the right to voice issues that are dear to our heart and to the city defined under the rule of law.” UBS Group AG in a memo to employees said it was “business as usual." Representatives for Citigroup and UBS confirmed the contents of the memos, BNP Paribas declined to comment.

“Western institutions are typically more democratic or collaborative,” said Benjamin Quinlan, chief executive officer of financial-services consultancy Quinlan & Associates in Hong Kong. Chinese firms are more focused on the “greater good and supporting the boss,” so it is “completely logical that a Chinese bank would support the interests of the government,” he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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