Hong Kong Drink Company Gets Bomb Threats After China Threatens Boycott

Soy milk drinks produced by local beverage brand Vitasoy (L) are displayed on a supermarket shelf in Hong Kong on July 5, 2021. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong beverage company Vitasoy reported a bomb threat to police Monday, following a weekend of boycott threats from China because a company staffer extended condolences to the family of an employee who stabbed a Hong Kong police officer.

Vitasoy, as the name suggests, is a company that specializes in soy milk and other plant-based milk substitutes, such as rice, almond, coconut, and oat milk. Founded in 1940, the company is based in Hong Kong and touts the use of Australian farm products in its beverages. Most of the company’s revenue comes from sales in China.

On the evening of July 1, a 50-year-old Vitasoy employee stabbed a 28-year-old Hong Kong police officer in the back outside a shopping mall, inflicting a serious injury. The suspect then stabbed himself in the chest and died after being taken to a nearby hospital. The police officer underwent surgery for a punctured lung and is now in stable condition.

July 1 was the day of the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th-anniversary celebration. It also marks the day when control of Hong Kong was handed over to China by the United Kingdom in 1997. The scene of the attack was Causeway Bay, which has been the organizing point for numerous protest marches over the past few years. 

Hong Kong security chief Chris Tang described the attack as “lone wolf” terrorism and blamed critics of the Bejing-controlled government for inspiring the attack because they “advocated violence, incited hostility, hatred towards society and country.”

“These people pushing from behind have their hands full with blood,” said Tang. He said the police found “radical” materials on the suspect’s computer, but did not provide any details.

“After going through months of riots in the second half of 2019, members of the public abhor violence and treasure very much the stability of society since the implementation of the National Security Law last year,” said Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.

Lam was referring to the authoritarian security law imposed on the city by Beijing last summer to quell widespread pro-democracy protests. The law has been roundly criticized by human rights organizations worldwide, especially as it has been invoked to eliminate the last vestiges of Hong Kong’s autonomy, silence dissent, and wipe out freedom of the press.

“Some Hong Kong activists interpreted the attack as an act of desperation against a government that has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent. Flowers were dropped at the site of the incident and dropped notes reading ‘R.I.P.’ outside police headquarters,” Bloomberg News reported Thursday, citing local media accounts.

Hong Kong police on Sunday warned residents not to mourn or celebrate the knife attacker. White flower memorials dedicated to the man were discovered across the city and seized or destroyed by police.

“Advocating members of the public to mourn for the attacker is no different from supporting terrorism,” the police said in a statement.

The police delayed identifying the attacker for as long as possible, but on Friday a Vitasoy internal memo named him as an employee of the company, purchasing manager Leung Kin-fai. The memo expressed “deepest condolences” to Leung’s family for his “unfortunate” death and said the human resources department would reach out to them.

The memo brought an outraged response from China. Internet users excoriated the company for “supporting a terrorist.” Several popular Chinese actors angrily terminated their sponsorship arrangements with Vitasoy. Company stock values plunged on Monday as a boycott threat loomed. At least one food e-commerce vendor, Shanghai-based Dingdong Maicai, has removed all Vitasoy products from its platform.

Some Hong Kong supporters of Vitasoy argued the company had done nothing but offer “human” compassion to Leung’s family, and said nothing to endorse or excuse his violent actions in the memo. Vitasoy used Weibo, China’s version of banned Twitter, to issue a statement on Saturday that it fully supported Hong Kong police investigating the stabbing under the national security law. 

A second Weibo statement from the company on Saturday disavowed the controversial internal memo, said it was written without management approval, and criticized the wording of the letter as “extremely inappropriate.” 

Some Hongkongers who initially supported the company were critical of this statement, accusing Vitasoy of “kneeling down” to political pressure from China. City University of Hong Kong political scientist Cheung Chor-yung told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Saturday that dismayed Vitasoy supporters see the company giving in to “mainland consumer blackmail,” as many other companies around the world have done.

“The Hong Kong government definitely has to bear some responsibility, as it has done nothing since 2019 to smooth the public’s grievances. People are unhappy and frustrated,” said Dr. Cheung.

On Monday morning, a Vitasoy employee called Hong Kong police to report a bomb threat against company headquarters. Police said they found no sign of a bomb, and were not able to make any immediate arrests, but would investigate the bomb threat as an act of “criminal intimidation.”

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