Wah Yee Tang, a pro-democracy cake shop in Hong Kong. Photo: Facebook

A famous cultural commentator in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland faced heavy criticism from pro-democracy netizens and other columnists after linking a pro-democracy shopping campaign with vandalism of shops.

Edward Yau Tang-wah, the secretary for commerce and economic development, started things off on December 17 by posting a short video on social media criticizing the idea of a “yellow economic circle” – a list of recommended shops and restaurants that pro-democracy supporters were urged to patronize.

Since then, pro-Beijing newspapers have repeatedly published commentaries that echo the critics, saying the circle has spread hatred and has more than a casual connection with the vandalism of pro-establishment shops.

Leung Man-tao Photo: RTHK

Leung Man-tao, 49, who is widely seen as a moderate pro-democracy “public opinion leader,” wrote in his column in Apple Daily on Sunday that people could decide how to spend their money according to their political preferences, but he disagreed with the strategy of vandalizing of “blue,” or pro-Beijing, shops. He blamed democracy supporters for tolerating the vandalism.

Leung added that he knows his opinion could hurt some of his readers. He also announced that he would stop writing his column as he was getting busier.

Having grown up in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Leung joined Phoenix TV as a host in 1998 and was able to share his cultural comments with an audience that included millions on the mainland. In 2009, he wrote an article saying that Hong Kong people should continue to safeguard the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

In September this year, he said in an RTHK interview that Beijing had misjudged the Hong Kong situation by labeling all protesters as separatists. He also said it would be difficult for the Hong Kong police to enforce the law without local people’s support.

Leung’s latest comments triggered a heated debate about the “yellow economy” and vandalism of shops.

Tang Ching-kin, a Hong Kong cultural commentator, said Leung had inspired many people with his articles in the past, but his mindset is outdated and he fails to understand Hong Kong’s current situation.

Another writer, Anita Leung, wrote in a blog article that Leung Man-tao had lost his empathy for Hong Kong protesters after staying in Beijing for many years. Leung started to study Buddhism a decade ago and moved to Beijing in recent years.

Anita Leung said a lot of moderate democrats also disagree with the vandalism strategy, but they have decided to stand with the frontline protesters to fight against tyranny. She said it’s misleading to say that vandalism is a part of the “yellow economic circle” campaign.

Another cultural writer said it was possible Leung Man-tao faced some pressure or threats from Beijing.

On Sunday, Shih Wing-ching, a pro-establishment Hong Kong businessman who founded Centaline Property Agency Ltd, said in a public forum that the “yellow economic circle” will further divide Hong Kong society politically without creating new economic benefits for the city. He said the practice should not result in damage or threats to shops that refuse to join the circle.

Vera Yuen Wing-han, an assistant lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of business and economics, said a lot of businesses in Hong Kong, including media companies and airlines, had been facing political influence from the central government’s Liaison Office.

Yuen said such influence was much bigger than that of the “yellow economic circle.” She said shops and restaurants should enjoy the rights to freely promote themselves to attract certain kinds of consumers.

Shih Wing-ching (left) and Vera Yuen Wing-han. Photo: RTHK

According to Chow Sung-ming, a member of the Shadow Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee, the “yellow economic circle” is a new idea that can help Hong Kong people regain their dominant power in local economic development, end monopolies in the consumption market and encourage industrial upgrades.

In an article published in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Monday, Chow said the internet was an important tool to help those things happen.

On Monday, some netizens uploaded nine posters promoting the idea of “Anywhere but China.” The posters categorize brands of consumer products such as chocolate, beer and shampoo by “colors” and suggest that Hong Kong consumers use foreign products instead of mainland ones.

Read: Hong Kong official knocks ‘color’-coded shopping

Read: Vandalism is a necessary tactic, say HK vanguard

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