HSBC, other banks call for end to Hong Kong protests

Global banks want Hong Kong’s political crisis to be over.

HSBC, Standard Chartered and the Bank of East Asia each placed advertisements in several local newspapers on Thursday, calling for a peaceful resolution to the months-long standoff between the city’s government and pro-democracy protesters.

HSBC, a British financial powerhouse that set up shop in Hong Kong in 1865 and now serves as the city’s biggest bank, said it was “very concerned” about recent social events in its message, which was published in five newspapers, including the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Wen Wei Po and Ming Pao.

“Social stability and the quality of remaining calm in the face of all sorts of challenges are the cornerstones of Hong Kong’s success. Maintaining the rule of law is essential to the international financial center status that is unique to Hong Kong,” read the ad, which was published in Chinese. “Therefore, we are in full support of using peaceful methods to solve problems.”

HSBC said it did not coordinate with other banks Thursday to publish advertisements about the protests.

Standard Chartered, another major British bank that has operated in the city for 160 years, said it staunchly supports Hong Kong’s government and the principle of “one country, two systems,” referring to the rule that affords the city political and legal freedoms that are not available in mainland China. The former UK colony was handed over to China in 1997.

The company placed a full-page ad in three newspapers on Thursday, saying “only in a peaceful and rational environment can we facilitate communications, resolve the divide facing us and open up a beautiful future of this international metropolis.”

Tensions have continued to rise as the anti-government protests head toward a 12th consecutive weekend. Organizers claimed that as many as 1.7 million people joined a peaceful march on Sunday, and more demonstrations are planned in the coming days.

The events have not gone without incident. Last week, a mainland Chinese journalist was detained and attacked by protesters at the city’s international airport. Last month, a mob of suspected organized criminals ambushed demonstrators in a subway station with iron bars and other weapons.

The violence has prompted more businesses and corporate leaders to speak out. Last week, Hong Kong’s property billionaires and the city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, affirmed their support for the government and called for calm in the streets.

“We hope to see a peaceful resolution that helps settle the current social issue and protect Hong Kong as an international financial center,” Standard Chartered said in a statement Thursday.

Bank of East Asia, a Hong Kong-based bank, called to “boost the economy” and “build harmony” in its own newspaper ad, which was published in three papers.

“We condemn all forms of violence and hope the city can restore peace and order as soon as possible, so that Hong Kong can focus on dealing with other challenges that we are facing now,” the company said.

In its earnings presentation earlier this week, the company said that “the tense atmosphere is likely to weigh on consumer and business confidence, and on in-bound tourism, if there is no resolution soon.”

Hong Kong officials have sounded the alarm over the city’s slumping economy. The city is already suffering from China’s slowdown and the trade war, and officials have repeatedly cautioned that disruption from the protests won’t make things easier. Last week, the government announced a new $2.4 billion stimulus package in an attempt to protect the city from a recession.

Hong Kong’s economy grew by just 0.6% in the second quarter compared to the same time last year, the weakest quarterly figure in a decade.

Ezra Cheung contributed to this report.