Hong Kong finance professionals urge democratic reform

Members of Occupy Central launch their campaign at a news conference

Financial workers of Hong Kong unite! That was the message behind a newspaper advertisement published in the city, in Chinese and English, on Wednesday.

The rousing call to arms wasn't about collectively bargaining for salary hikes, or soliciting ideas to boost the lacklustre performance of the stock market.

Instead, it urged bankers, traders and other financial professionals to protect Hong Kong's status as a world-class financial centre - by demanding democratic reforms.

The full-page advert took the form of a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong.

Titled Ten Requests to Our Communist Party Leaders, the letter explains why the lack of genuine universal suffrage will hurt the city's competitiveness in the long run.

The sharply-suited activists behind the advert - a group of about 70 hedge fund managers, bankers and stockbrokers - hosted a lunch to introduce their ideas to journalists and lawmakers.

They are all members of Occupy Central, a civil disobedience protest movement advocating free and fair elections.

Investors look at information displayed on an electronic screen at a brokerage house in Shanghai, 14 April 2014 A group of hedge fund managers, bankers and stockbrokers introduced their ideas to journalists and lawmakers
Political Petri dish

The group's name comes from a possible worst-case scenario.

If Beijing persists in allowing only loyalists on the ballot for chief executive in 2017, Occupy activists plan to paralyse Hong Kong's Central financial district to force a legitimate choice.

They are willing to be jailed for their beliefs.

The Chinese government has expressed alarm about the movement, which was founded by law professor Benny Tai.

Over the three-course lunch of white onion soup, free-range chicken and fruit pancakes, Mr Tai jokingly expressed surprise that professionals in the financial industry - sometimes pilloried for being apolitical, apathetic and materialistic - would be willing to risk their jobs for a cause.

Their leader, and the man behind the advert, is Edward Chin, managing director of an alternative investment fund.

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"We are not people who rely on relationships, we work hard for our success," he tells me.

"We are concerned about mainland China exerting undue influence. We are concerned about money laundering. We are concerned about unfair competition in this city.

Those at the top, people who connected with the Communist Party, score all the jobs. Those in the middle, even those with Ivy League degrees, find it very difficult to move upwards."

He says that in his industry, fund management, those with party connections can easily raise hundreds of millions of dollars, sometimes from questionable sources.

Mr Chin believes these examples contradict the principles of fair competition that have made Hong Kong so successful.

His group says the solution to Hong Kong's growing social, political and economic problems is to establish a universal and equal electoral system.

"If a bogus universal suffrage with pre-selection or screening is implemented in 2017, then this so-called universal suffrage remains a small-circle election," the activists write in their letter.

"The chief executive thus elected will continue to lack legitimacy and the society will continue to face a predicament in governance."

They argue the mainland Chinese government should use Hong Kong as a political Petri dish to carry out experiments in democratic reforms, as they had done for the much-celebrated economic transformation of the past 35 years.

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