Big business and the Occupy Central movement clashed yesterday over the price the city would pay if the pro-democracy movement brought the heart of Hong Kong to a halt.
Four business groups warned that Occupy Central could cost the city billions. But Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a founder of Occupy Central, countered that the economic cost of failing to achieve universal suffrage in 2017 could be higher.
The movement hopes to have at least 10,000 protesters ready to block roads into Central in July next year if the government fails to deliver proposals for "genuine" universal suffrage.
Yesterday, the Beijing-loyalist Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Manufacturers' Association, which together represent more than 9,000 businesses, each took out half-page advertisements in three Chinese-language business newspapers - the Hong Kong Economic Times, Hong Kong Economic Journal and Sing Tao Daily.
The association's statement was headed: "Do not let the Occupy Central act destroy Hong Kong's economic prosperity." It quoted "an academic analysis [that] the damage that Occupy Central would do to our economy is beyond estimation. The financial sector estimates that if the stock market is hamstrung … the loss in transactions could amount to tens of billion dollars in one hour".
The city's long-term competitiveness and economic stability could be undermined, it added.
The chamber slammed Occupy Central for "challenging the spirit of the rule of law, which the city's survival has depended on".
It added: "All of our daily activities must be based on the law … [otherwise] there will be chaos, and the lives of the majority of Hongkongers will be affected."
The groups urged rational discussion of "controversial issues".
Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce chief executive Shirley Yuen said: "Many companies choose to do business here because of our rule of law, expertise and stable environment.
"If businesses find their operations could be undermined by demonstrations, this could have a detrimental effect on our economy and future investment decisions … One incident is enough to overturn [Hong Kong's] long-established reputation."
A Federation of Hong Kong Industries spokeswoman echoed that view, stressing that "the business sector was worried Occupy Central could add uncertainty to our economy".
Separately, Basic Law Committee deputy director Elsie Leung Oi-sie criticised Occupy Central as "dictatorship by the minority" that "gambled on the well-being of Hongkongers".
Tai, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, responded by saying: "It appears they have some misunderstanding about our plan. We are not anarchists; Occupy Central is a restricted and conditional plan for civil disobedience. If there is no universal suffrage … the long-term economic effect might be bigger [than occupying Central]."