Until its climbdown last week, the Hong Kong government had been adamant that its controversial bid to amend existing laws to allow the rendition of fugitives to mainland China was made in light of the lack of a formal extradition deal between the two jurisdictions.
The government’s piecemeal adjustments to the proposed amendment bill – such as excluding some white-collar crimes and raising the bar of surrender to cover only grave offenses carrying custodial terms of seven years or above – failed to quell the fears and skepticism of multinational corporations and local businesses in the city.
It is only after two mass rallies attended by a total of three million people plus clashes during which police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at scrums of protesters that the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, announced the suspension of related legislative work last Saturday.
But a number of business associations, including the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, have pointed out that restoring business confidence is likely to be an arduous task even though the bill is dead.
Sensitive time for survey
Hong Kong’s government is currently conducting its annual survey of non-local companies.
The questionnaire-based survey, to end by the end of June, will collect information about the needs of foreign companies, so as to tailor strategies to maintain a favorable business environment for investors, says the government.
Last year’s survey estimated that 1,530 international firms based their regional head offices in the city, including many big names like Apple, Microsoft, Citi, JP Morgan, Nissan etc, and most of these companies were from the US, Japan and mainland China. The number of regional headquarters showed a robust growth of 8.3% from 1,413 in 2017.
The findings of this year’s survey, like the changes to the overall numbers of multinational firms setting up or maintaining their regional head offices in the city, can be a timely gauge of their take on the situation as well as their outlook.
‘No reason to stay’
Previously, top executives had already warned they would have “no reason to stay” if freedoms in Hong Kong were adversely affected by the passage of the extradition bill, which would apply not only to Hong Kong citizens but also to expats living in the former British colony and even passengers in transit at the city’s airport, a global aviation hub.
Washington has warned that the amendment could damage Hong Kong’s business environment and subject 1,400 American companies as well as 85,000 citizens in the city to China’s “capricious” legal system.
The European Union, Britain, Canada, Australia and Japan also raised concerns over what the bill could mean for the safety of their people and businesses in Hong Kong.
Many warn that the bill and the subsequent schisms and chaotic scenes it stirred up have already added to the appeal and pull of Hong Kong’s arch-rivals in the region – Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul.
American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong chairwoman Tara Joseph also told reporters this week that Hong Kong’s leader must make it clear that the “confidence-busting” extradition bill had been dropped completely. She said Hong Kong had squandered a lot of time quarreling over the bill since it was introduced in February.
Aron Harilela, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said he expected the Hong Kong leader’s formal apology for the anxieties caused by the bill would signal the end of the drama that has dented the city’s reputation as a premier business and financial center in Asia.
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