HONG KONG – Two prominent figures with wildly different backgrounds – one being a super-rich man and the other a daredevil urban climber – used their own ways of call for peace in Hong Kong on Friday, while more protests are being planned for this weekend after the week got off to a violent start in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
As Hong Kong is witnessing the 11th consecutive week of anti-government protests that are getting increasingly violent, Li Ka-shing, the richest man in the Asian financial hub, took the unusual move to make a plea for love and called for an end to violence in front-page ads run in two local newspapers Friday.
This was the first time the retired 91-year-old billionaire, whose words are often deemed powerful enough to pack a punch in Hong Kong, commented on Hong Kong’s worst political crisis in decades that began in June due to a widely unpopular extradition bill.
In one statement printed in the independent Chinese-language paper Ming Pao, Li asked that rage and violence be halted for the sake of love. He also cautioned that “the best cause can lead to the worst outcome.”
In the other ad, run in the Beijing-backed Ta Kung Pao, the tycoon quoted an ancient poem that literally translates as: “The melon on the yellow cannot withstand more plucking.”
The phrase was written by a Tang Dynasty crown prince in the seventh century in a subtle reference to his power-hungry mother, empress Wu Zetian, who persecuted her own sons for political power.
Li then issued a statement on Friday to explain the ads, saying “the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions” and that “investing in our next generation will always bear fruit for our city.”
Separately, French stuntman Alain Robert, who has made a name for illegally climbing skyscrapers across the world, scaled a tall building in Central, the central business district of Hong Kong, and unfurled a banner showing the Chinese and Hong Kong flags as well as two hands shaking.
In what may be a coincidence, the 68-story skyscraper Robert scaled, Cheung Kong Center, is a property formerly owned by Li Ka-shing, who sold it to a consortium of Hong Kong investors and Chinese buyers in 2017.
Prior to the stunt, Robert, nicknamed the “French Spiderman,” issued a statement saying his climb was “an urgent appeal for peace and consultation between Hong Kong people and their government.”
“Perhaps what I do can lower the temperature and maybe raise a smile. That’s my hope anyway,” the 57-year-old said. He was arrested by police after the climb.
Meanwhile, the political temperature in Hong Kong seems unlikely to go down any time soon, as a series of protests are in the pipeline.
A group of netizens and university students will organize a “Stand with Hong Kong, power to the people” rally in a park in Central at 20:00 local time (1200 GMT) Friday.
Protesters will voice two demands: that the UK should declare “China has breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration”; and that US Congress and the UK Parliament should impose sanctions on persons who “suppress Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms.”
Other pro-democracy activists intend to stage two protests in two different districts Saturday and another one Sunday, but police have refused to issue a letter of no-objection to all three, effectively making the protests illegal if they go ahead. Organizers of the Sunday protest are appealing their case.
A group of secondary students also announced Friday that nearly 90 percent of about 20,000 students interviewed in a poll supported a plan to go on strike once a week starting from September. Rallies that take the form of civil classes and public speaking are set to be held in different parts of Hong Kong on Sept. 2.
On the other side of the political and social divide, a pro-Beijing group called Safeguard Hongkong will stage a rally near the Hong Kong government headquarters Saturday afternoon to “fight violence” and “save Hong Kong.”
All these plans came after the ongoing anti-government protest movements escalated to a new level on Sunday, when the city’s embattled police launched an unusually heavy-handed operation to clear protests in various districts.
One young woman was allegedly shot in the eye by a police projectile, one of the numerous bloody incidents that night that prompted over 5,000 protesters to flood Hong Kong International Airport on Monday to continue a three-day sit-in, which was supposed to end last Friday.
The sit-in later degenerated into vehement altercations with protesters besieging two mainland Chinese men suspected to be undercover agents, and a group of black-clad demonstrators clashing violently with police.
Since June, Hong Kong has been rocked by a wave of protests because of the extradition bill, which would have enabled fugitives to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China.
Though the bill has been declared “dead” by the city’s top leader Carrie Lam, the civil campaign against it has since morphed into a broader movement seeking to reverse a general decline in freedoms and investigate police brutality.