HONG KONG The Big Four accounting firms have taken out adverts in Hong Kong newspapers, urging organisers of a civil campaign seeking greater democracy to resolve disputes through dialogue, saying they oppose any moves to shut down the city in protest.
The move comes ahead of the results of an unofficial referendum, which has been branded illegal by the former British territory and by Beijing, on proposed electoral reforms related to a vote in 2017 to elect Hong Kong's next leader.
Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the organisers of the referendum, have threatened to lock down the Central area of Hong Kong, home to some of Asia's biggest companies and banks, as part of its campaign to demand greater democracy in elections for the city's leader, or chief executive, in 2017.
Chinese authorities are keen to ensure that only pro-Beijing candidates make it on to the ballot. Democracy activists want the nomination process to be open to everyone.
"We are worried that foreign multinationals and investors will leave their Hong Kong headquarters because of this, or even withdraw their business, and shake Hong Kong's place as an international business centre over the long term," read the ad that appeared in three Chinese-language newspapers.
It urged those involved in the movement to settle disputes through consultation and dialogue.
The ads were signed by Ernst & Young [ERNY.UL], KPMG [KPMG.UL], Deloitte Kwan Wong Tan & Fong [DLTE.UL], the company's Hong Kong unit, and PricewaterhouseCoopers [PWC.UL].
PwC confirmed the advertisements were placed by its Hong Kong unit in Ming Pao, the Hong Kong Economic Journal and the Hong Kong Economic Times in Chinese, and scheduled to run only on Friday.
KPMG also confirmed the ads were placed by its Hong Kong unit but declined to comment further. Deloitte and EY confirmed that the ads were real but declined to comment further.
"It means China is exerting all possible influence over all groups they can influence," said Benny Tai, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong and one of the organisers of the referendum.
The ads come as hundreds of lawyers marched through Hong Kong on Friday to protest against a white paper released by Beijing this month that says "loving the country" is a basic requirement for judicial personnel.
(Reporting by Clare Baldwin, Adam Rose and; Donny Kwok; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)