(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s richest man is weighing in on the protests rocking the city, urging a halt to the unrest “in the name of love.”
“Love freedom, love tolerance, love the rule of law,” billionaire Li Ka-shing said in advertisements placed on the front pages of several local newspapers Friday, signing them as “a Hong Kong citizen.”
“Love China, love Hong Kong, love yourself. The best cause can lead to the worst result. Stop anger in the name of love,” he said.
The message from the 91-year-old, called Superman by his admirers, is the latest in a slew of appeals for calm from the city’s tycoons as clashes between police and protesters grow increasingly violent. But unlike some of his peers, Li stopped short of spelling out his support for the Hong Kong government and leader Carrie Lam, who is facing calls from protesters to resign.
Demonstrations that started in early June over a controversial bill easing extraditions to China have morphed into a wider movement against Beijing’s tightening grip over the city. With no signs of an end to the unrest, speculation has been growing that China will send in its troops after state media showed video footage of paramilitary police gathering in Shenzhen, just across the mainland border.
A spokesman for Li said in a separate statement Friday that the businessman believes Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity depends on the “one country, two systems” principle and that he wants residents to treasure that and stop the violence.
Read more on Hong Kong’s unrest:
While the theme of Li’s message was love and peace, local social media lit up over the meaning of eight traditional Chinese characters he used in his call to end the pain and restore calm. The poetic message, with origins in the Tang dynasty days, is often used to mean that something that has sustained repeated damage could break from another blow.
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network, “Li Ka-shing voiced out” was one of the trending topics, with many discussions focusing on how to interpret his message. Some posts said Li was being deliberately ambiguous to placate both Beijing and the protesters. Later, the hashtag was disabled, with Chinese messages taken off the feed.
Mingpao, a Hong Kong newspaper, said Li used the poem to convey that regardless of their political views, people need to stop hurting Hong Kong and act in its best interests. But the paper said it could also mean that those in power should stop persecuting citizens.
There were other interpretations as well. Political cartoonist and dissident Badiucao depicted a panda picking melons -- as referred to in the poem -- and smashing them one by one to symbolize semi-autonomous regions of China including Hong Kong.
In 2017, when Li was asked on his views on Lam before she was elected Chief Executive, he spoke of a mythological Chinese goddess who saved the Earth by patching a broken sky. Those comments were construed as his support for Lam, the only female candidate for the position.
While Lam has criticized “a small minority” of the city’s youth for the violence and for hurting the economy, Li said in his statement that investing in the future matters.
The young fear the future holds little for them, he said, adding that “investing in our next generation will always bear fruit for our city.”
Spiderman on Skyscraper
Meanwhile, a man scaled the side of the iconic Cheung Kong Center, the nerve center of Li’s business empire, on Friday to unfurl a banner calling for peace between the special administrative region and China. Agence France-Presse identified him as French “Spiderman” Alain Robert, who has scaled buildings around the world.
China took control of Hong Kong in 1997 under an agreement designed to guarantee freedoms protesters say are now being eroded by Beijing.
Li embodies the rise of Chinese moguls in Hong Kong. A refugee to the city, he swept factory floors as a teenager and rose to the pinnacle of the city’s business leaders, heading a wide-ranging conglomerate that built skyscrapers, provided mobile-phone services and controlled ports across the globe.
With a net worth of $27 billion, he retired as head of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. and CK Asset Holdings Ltd. in May 2018, handing over the reins to his eldest son Victor Li.
(Updates with Li’s comments on Hong Kong’s youth in 13th paragraph.)
--With assistance from Natalie Lung.
To contact the reporter on this story: Shirley Zhao in Hong Kong at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sam Nagarajan at firstname.lastname@example.org, Karen Leigh
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