Thousands have signed an online petition denouncing reported comments by an HSBC Holdings board member in which she likened Hong Kong protesters' demands for democracy to the emancipation of slaves.
Laura Cha, who is also a member of Hong Kong's policy-making Executive Council, chairwoman of the city's Financial Services Development Council and a member of China's parliament, reportedly made the comments at an event in Paris.
“American slaves were liberated in 1861 but did not get voting rights until 107 years later, so why can't Hong Kong wait for a while?” the Standard newspaper on Thursday quoted Cha as saying, referring to demands for free elections in the former British colony.
Cha could not immediately be reached for comment.
HSBC's Asia-Pacific chief Peter Wong declined to comment on her remarks, while the Financial Services Development Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The comments triggered outrage on social media and nearly 5,000 people had signed the petition by Friday afternoon.
“We, the Hong Kong public, will not stand these remarks likening our rights to slavery, nor will we stand the kind of voter disenfranchisement her and her associates attempt to perpetrate on the Hong Kong public,” said the petition to HSBC, that sought an apology from Cha.
The petition is addressed to the HSBC board of directors and is signed “The People of Hong Kong.”
Her comments came just days after Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying triggered a wave of criticism when he said that free elections were unacceptable partly because they risked giving Hong Kong's poor and working class a dominant voice.
China has ruled Hong Kong since 1997 through a “one country, two systems” formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
But Beijing said in August it would screen candidates who want to run for the city's election for a chief executive in 2017, which democracy activists said rendered the notion of universal suffrage meaningless.
For more than a month, key roads leading into three of Hong Kong's most economically and politically important districts have been barricaded with wood and steel by thousands of protesters demanding greater democracy.
The protests drew well over 100,000 at their peak.