National-World

Hong Kong's billionaires call for order to be restored

Weeks of protests affecting business

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's real estate billionaires are calling for an end to massive protests that have crippled local businesses and paralyzed the city's international airport.

Swire Pacific, one of Hong Kong's richest family-owned business empires, issued a strongly worded statement on Tuesday. The company condemned "illegal activities and violent behavior" and threw its support behind Hong Kong's beleaguered government.

"Swire Pacific is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence and disruption impacting Hong Kong," the company said in a statement, offering its full support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the city's police "in their efforts to restore law and order."

The company's CEO is billionaire Merlin Swire. The family's business empire dates back more than 200 years and has had roots in Hong Kong for much of that time. It owns luxury hotels, office towers and high-end shopping malls in the city.

Swire is also the largest shareholder in Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flagship airline that has become a high profile casualty of the turmoil. Swire said it fully supports the carrier's "strict implementation" of new restrictions on the airline handed down by China's aviation authority over the weekend.

The statement came as hundreds of protestors crowded into Hong Kong's international airport, disrupting flights for the second day in a row.

Cathay has canceled more than 270 flights over the last two days. Shares in the carrier have fallen nearly 14% this month.

 

Property tycoon: Time to "think deeply"

 

Sun Hung Kai Properties, which is controlled by Asia's third richest family, the Kwoks, also called Tuesday for demonstrators to stop the violence. The real estate developer called for the restoration of social order and voiced support for Hong Kong's government and Lam.

Property tycoon Peter Woo, the former chairman of developer Wheelock & Co., also called on protesters to ease off, saying they already notched a victory by getting the government to shelve a controversial extradition bill that originally sparked the protests.

"It's time to think it over," Woo said in a statement Monday. "Opposition to the extradition bill was the 'big tree' of this movement. But this one, big appeal was accepted by the government on July 9. So the tree has already fallen." Some people are using the issue to "purposely stir up trouble," he added.

Hong Kong has some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, but the protests are now threatening its economy. City officials have warned that the disruption could have a more lasting impact than the outbreak of the deadly SARS virus in 2003 that slashed the lucrative tourist trade. Real estate, among other industries, could take a major hit.

 

Why Hong Kong is protesting

 

Hong Kong's protest movement kicked off in earnest in June. It was sparked by the extradition bill, which many feared could be used by Beijing to crush dissent.

Since then, the demonstrations have expanded into something bigger. Protestors are now demanding greater democracy and an inquiry into alleged police brutality. The protest movement — now entering its 11th week — has seen protesters and police clash numerous times.

Laura He contributed to this report.


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