Beijing’s office in Hong Kong has slammed shoppers’ support for pro-democracy businesses as “violating” free market principles.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the office said “extreme radicals” had initiated illegal assemblies, disturbed shops and hurled petrol bombs during the May 1 holiday, despite demonstrations remaining low-key. It accused opposition lawmakers of using the “yellow economy” promotion to secure seats in the Legislative Council election in September, claiming that Hong Kong’s economy had been “kidnapped” by politics.

hongkongers' golden week yellow shop queue "May 1 2020"
Citizens lined up outside a “yellow” shop in Causeway Bay on May 1. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

“Opposition lawmakers ignored the rules of the free market and made an utmost effort in hyping up the so-called ‘yellow economic circle’,” the statement read.

“[They] manufacture a rift in society and unscrupulously disturb and destroy innocent shops. It is a kind of scorched-earth politics with politics kidnapping the economy,” the spokesperson added.

The liaison office’s remarks came after citizens responded to online calls to shop and dine at businesses that supported the anti-extradition bill movement which erupted last June. Organisers aimed at creating a “Hongkongers’ 5.1 Golden Week,” in response to the absence of mainland shoppers who usually arrive during the break. Tourism, however, has come to a halt amid coronavirus travel restrictions.

"April 28 2020" IFC mall police cordon
Police setting up a cordon inside the IFC mall. Photo: Studio Incendo.

According to the organisers’ Telegram channel, a total of 2,305 shops took part in the campaign, with an estimated turnover of more than HK$100 million. The organisers encouraged citizens to continue supporting pro-democracy shops after the campaign and promote the pro-democracy “yellow economy.”

City-wide protests failed to emerge on Labour Day last Friday, but riot police cleared Sha Tin’s New Town Plaza of protesters chanting slogans. Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy was arrested over suspected arson in Prince Edward, where four people threw petrol bombs and rods at a police vehicle as it drove past the intersection of Nathan Road and Boundary Street.

Free economy

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong wrote on Twitter that it was ironic that the Communist Party of China criticised Hongkongers as breaching the principles of the free market. He said citizens had the freedom to use their own money to support or denounce shops, adding that it was “precisely the fulfilment of the free market.”

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted about Beijing’s criticisms.

Meanwhile, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying urged citizens to report on suspected violations of the “yellow” shops, such as breaching the Buildings Ordinance and Fire Services Ordinance. Leung said he opposed any form of violence, but blowing the whistle could be a legal means to “renovate” the pro-democracy shops, referring to the term “renovation” commonly used among protesters that meant thrashing anti-protest stores.

Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying urged citizens to approach government departments or pro-establishment lawmakers to report on suspected violations of “yellow” shops.

After 25 years in the top spot, Hong Kong was rated as the world’s second freest economy in the Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Index of Economic Freedom in March.

Boycott warning against Australia

Last Monday, China’s ambassador Cheng Jingye warned Australia that the country’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic – which China opposed – could trigger a consumer boycott among Chinese students and tourists. Cheng said the Chinese public were “frustrated, dismayed and disappointed” with the calls.

“Maybe the ordinary people will think why they should drink Australian wine or eat Australian beef. Why couldn’t we do it differently?,” Cheng asked in an interview with Australian Financial Review.

Australian Parliament, Canberra
Australian Parliament, Canberra. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the suggestion for a probe as “entirely sensible,” and said it had “broad-based support,” while Foreign Minister Marise Payne rejected Cheng’s warnings as “economic coercion.”

“It is important that we just have an objective, independent assessment of how this originated and learn the lessons from how that occurred,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra last Wednesday.

Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.