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HSBC chairman Mark Tucker condemns violent protests in Hong Kong

Amanda Lee in Beijing amanda.lee@scmp.com

Hong Kong must resolve its political crisis peacefully under "one country, two systems" and violence will not enable protesters to achieve their aims, the head of the city's biggest bank told China's state broadcaster.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the summer of unrest, HSBC chairman Mark Tucker said Hong Kong thrived because of its stability, resilience and rule of law.

"Its rule of law is essential to its status as an international financial centre. And we fully support the resolving of the issues peacefully, but under the framework of one country, two systems," Tucker said in an interview with China Central Television aired late on Saturday.

"And we really look forward to being part of a peaceful and prosperous Hong Kong and clearly supporting China's growth and development.

"We strongly condemn violence of any sort, any kind of disruption to communities where customers, staff and shareholders are based. We clearly have deep concern."

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He said he was confident about Hong Kong's future as an international financial centre, adding that the bank would expand its investment in China and support international companies seeking business opportunities in the country.

"Yes, we have complete confidence in the future of Hong Kong as a financial centre, and we have complete confidence in the resilience of the financial market, and Hong Kong is a world leading financial centre," Tucker said.

"[Hong Kong is] robust [and] open in terms of its banking sector, and it has deep public and private capital markets, and really world-class logistic and professional services."

Tucker is the most senior executive from the British bank to join the chorus of business leaders condemning violence sparked by protests against the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

His comments follow advertisements in several Hong Kong Chinese-language broadsheet newspapers last month by HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia, calling for calm and a return to order.

Central government officials also met some 500 political and business leaders in August to gain their support to stop the chaos that has gripped the city since June.

The expanded Chinese edition of the Tucker interview published on CCTV's website also included a part on HSBC's history, saying it was tied closely to China's own economic development.

But it ended with a reminder: "Please take note that whoever comes to China and does business with China must respect China's laws."

Beijing has sought to bring Hong Kong's business community to its side and, in recent weeks, state media outlets have stepped up their criticisms of individual businesses that have appeared to sympathise with protesters.

The mainland's civil aviation authority even put Cathay Pacific Airways under intense regulatory scrutiny over its employees' involvement in or comments about the protests. It lead to the firing of staff and departure of top executives, including chairman John Slosar and chief executive Rupert Hogg.

State media outlets have also targeted accounting firms KPMG, Ernst & Young (EY), Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and retailers such as Zara for not taking a clear stand against the protests.

The latest state media targets are Hong Kong's property tycoons. Commentaries published last week by Communist Party mouthpieces Xinhua News Agency and People's Daily, and even a social media opinion piece by the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, singled out unaffordable housing as a "root cause" behind young people taking to the streets.

Analysts said state media's more aggressive rhetoric against businesses reflected the growing political risks for firms that operate in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Lokman Tsui, assistant professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong's journalism school, said the central government was "forcing companies to do its political bidding" in return for access to the Chinese market.

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Adam Ni, a China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the messages from state media reflected Beijing's growing attempts to enlist non-mainland companies to support its political agenda.

"I think the message Beijing is trying to send is that if you want to do business with China, then you would have to have the 'correct' political stance, including in Hong Kong," Ni said. "It's about enforcing political orthodoxy. It's about ensuring political loyalty."

He said Hong Kong businesses were walking a fine line between maintaining an international reputation and operating on the mainland.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.