Hong Kong protests: billionaire businessman Peter Woo pleads with Hongkongers to stop the violence, warns of terrorism threat as tensions escalate

Cannix Yau

Billionaire businessman Peter Woo Kwong-ching has called on Hongkongers from all sides to stop resorting to violence as the city continued to be gripped by ferocious clashes and bitter division.

Woo, 73, became the first tycoon to issue the direct appeal after hundreds of business leaders and pro-Beijing politicians were asked by mainland China officials last week in Shenzen for their support in safeguarding Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

He also defended Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, calling her a “Hong Kong daughter” who proposed the extradition bill with good intentions.

On Sunday, police stepped up the use of force by firing tear gas in an enclosed subway station for the first time as protesters continued their new hit-and-run tactics to unleash chaos across multiple districts.

Swathes of the city including Tsim Sha Tsui, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai and Kwai Chung became smoke-filled war zones amid the escalating turmoil.

Anti-government protesters try to put out tear gas on Sunday in Tsim Sha Tsui, as demonstrations continue to be characterised by violence from various groups including police, protesters and their opponents. Photo: Felix Wong

In a statement issued on Sunday night, Woo, the former chairman of property giants Wheelock and Wharf Holdings who sits on China’s top advisory body, raised concerns over the use of violence by radical protesters and warned of the risk of more extreme behaviour by opposing sides.

“The unlawful act of violence and intimidation, against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims – some say this is the definition of terrorism by the Oxford English Dictionary,” he said.

“I call on those whichever group they are from: red, yellow, blue, white or black, please don’t resort to violence.”

Police ramp up force as Hong Kong rocked by more protest violence

His statement came after the city’s major property tycoons – including Woo, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi of CK Hutchison, Peter Lee Ka-kit of Henderson Land Development, Raymond Kwok Ping-luen of Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henry Cheng Kar-shun of New World Development – issued a joint petition to newspapers on Sunday calling on the public to stop all illegal protests and violent acts to allow stability to return to Hong Kong.

Woo’s family business, Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui, was also caught in controversy last week when the state-run tabloid Global Times lashed out at the popular shopping mall for “kowtowing” to protesters and accused it of not doing enough to protect the Chinese national flag.

In his statement, Woo argued that protesters had already achieved their original aim of blocking the now-shelved extradition bill, suggesting they were now disguising the movement and fighting for other changes, such as political reform, that extended beyond the ambit of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

“The extradition bill is now game over ... The current five demands are just some pretences to fight for what they failed to achieve in the ‘Occupy Central’ movement that go beyond what is permitted by the Basic Law,” he said.

Why Hong Kong protesters view police as the enemy

The tycoon believed they were in fact attempts to steal power from the Central government, to change the Basic Law and the Beijing’s framework for political reform from August 2014 so “the opposition camp could wrest control of the Legislative Council”.

He called on protesters to quit and move on, warning that there would be no winners in the movement if they continued their radical behaviour.

Riot police and anti-government protesters clash in Sham Shui Po in a scene businessman Peter Woo says should be consigned to history. Photo: Felix Wong

“There will be zero gain like what happened in the Occupy Central movement five years ago … Please don’t make Hong Kong pay a heavy price again,” he warned.

However, he also admitted the extradition bill, which has been dropped by the government, would make Hong Kong “game over” if it were passed into law.

Hong Kong protesters’ increasing sympathy for radical action

“Some protesters said: ‘If we don’t come out, Hong Kong will be game over!’ But this is just the opposite. If the bill was passed into law, you could have said it. But now it is not the case … So please quit while you are ahead,” he said.

Praising the city’s leader, Woo said: “She hasn’t betrayed Hong Kong. She already accepted public demands and pronounced the bill dead.

“Lam doesn’t have any personal interest to serve. She is a 100 per cent Hong Kong daughter who has contributed her fair share to Hong Kong.”

Woo, who ran for the post of chief executive but was defeated in 1996 in the first election for the postcolonial era, is currently a Standing Committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top national advisory body.

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