Protests and Beijing’s tightening grip rattle Hong Kong business community

Fishing boats sail through Victoria harbour in Hong Kong on Monday, to mark the 22nd anniversary of the handover from Britain to China. Many Hong Kong residents now fear the city is surrendering its independence to Beijing. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2019
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Protests and Beijing’s tightening grip rattle Hong Kong business community

  • City's outlook as a finance hub clouded by violent unrest and fears of Chinese crackdown, managers warn

HONG KONG: Chaotic scenes of protesters rampaging through Hong Kong’s legislature, trashing furniture and daubing graffiti over walls, have sent jitters through the business community, which worries about the impact on the city’s status as a financial hub.

Plumes of smoke billowed among gleaming skyscrapers early on Tuesday as police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the heart of the Chinese-ruled city, home to the offices of some of the world’s biggest companies, including global bank HSBC .

Escalating unrest over a controversial extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, grabbed global headlines and clouded the former British colony’s outlook as a finance hub, one of the city’s main pillars of growth.

“I think there will be damage to the reputation of Hong Kong,” said Yumi Yung, 35, who works in fintech. “Some companies may want to leave, or at least not have their headquarters here.”

About 1,500 multinational companies make Hong Kong their Asian home because of its stability and rule of law. Some of the biggest and most violent protests in decades could change that perception.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary. Monday was the 22nd anniversary.

Beijing denies interfering, but for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control. Many fear it would put them at the mercy of courts controlled by the Communist Party where human rights are not guaranteed.

“If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong,” said Steve, a British lawyer who has worked there for 30 years.

Daniel Yim, a 27-year-old investment banker, said both sides needed to sit down and work things out.

“I think the most effective way to address this will be that the government will actually tackle this and speak to the people, and I guess, you know, both sides sit together and come up with the appropriate solution.”

Others raised concerns about the future of human rights and the judiciary. Many did not want to use their full names.

“To me, the biggest worry is how Hong Kong is losing its independence bit by bit, and is getting dangerously close to a country that doesn’t value human rights and that doesn’t have an independent judicial system,” said Edward, an Australian who has worked in the financial sector for 10 years.

The extradition bill, now suspended but not scrapped, has also spooked some tycoons into moving their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers familiar with the details.

An Australian businesswoman who has worked in Hong Kong for 16 years lamented what she saw as Beijing’s tightening grip.

“China is just taking away more and more freedom from Hong Kong,” she said.

“I feel sorry for Hong Kong people, especially people who are here for more freedom, a better economy, a better life, and now it’s going backwards,” the woman said.

Such concerns came as China’s leading newspaper warned on Wednesday that outbreaks of lawlessness could damage Hong Kong’s reputation and seriously hurt its economy.

Calm has returned for now, but the events of recent weeks have set many people thinking.

“If it had escalated, I would consider moving elsewhere,” a 44-year-old hedge fund manager said of the ransacking of the legislature. “I employ four to five people in Hong Kong, so, yes, I would consider moving.”


More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

Updated 22 September 2019

More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

  • GITEX is an international platform

DUBAI: More than 100 Saudi organizations, including government entities, private companies and startups, are participating at the upcoming GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, from Oct. 6 to 10, indicating an increase in Saudi participation from last year at the annual technology gathering.

Bringing in one of the biggest contingents at the event, at 114, Saudi Arabia is also an official partner of GITEX this year, which is expecting to host more than 100,000 visitors over four days at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

“There’s a lot of collaboration and integration in this region — there’s a lot of learning and sharing. GITEX is an international platform. This is where the Saudi contingent comes — from the big enterprise sector to the startup ecosystem — to interact with hundreds and thousands of visitors from over 140 countries,” Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president of events management at DWTC, told reporters on Sunday.

LohMirmand also noted a spike in Saudi participation at the GITEX Future Stars, a concurrent event that focuses on the region’s startup community.

“We have a big Saudi Innovation Day. In fact, Saudis are again bringing a big contingent of startups. It’s led by the deputy minister of communications from Saudi Arabia to explore partnerships and discuss the opportunities in the region, particularly for startups,” she said, referring to the three special sessions that will focus on the Kingdom’s technology drive.

This increase in participation, LohMirmand said, is a reflection of a bigger “impetus on innovation and the getting the startup community going” in the region.

“We see a lot of new tech coming out, so there’s a lot of interest to give these companies an opportunity to connect to the rest of the world. When you come to GITEX, we connect you to the rest of the world — we host over 500 investors from all around the world, including from Silicon Valley,” she added.

Firat Aktas, DWTC’s director of brand innovation and communication, stressed: “You can see what’s happening around the world — the Saudis are showing their ambition very clearly in various industries.”

Earlier this year, the Saudi Telecom Company signed a deal with Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson to launch commercial 5G services in the Kingdom. “The roll-out continues. It’s a huge deployment in different parts of Saudi Arabia,” Wojciech Bajda, head of Gulf Council countries and global customer unit zain, told Arab News. “The focus for our customers currently is to understand how to monetize 5G, how to make sure there’s an industrial application of 5G in Saudi Arabia.”

Bajda also said they are looking at introducing 5G to different sectors in the Kingdom such as mining, and oil and gas. “We have engagements with different industries in trying to prototype together, and see if there’s something relevant for Saudi Arabia, and for our customers like the Saudi Telecom Company to pick up and do a full implementation,” he added. 

What to expect at GITEX this year 

This year’s GITEX, which has the theme “Synergizing the Mind and Technology Economy,” will highlight the region’s 5G adoption, as well as other futuristic concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and immersive technology.

LohMirmand said the dwelling time for GITEX visitors has increased over the years, owing to the gathering’s massive content offering.

“We are measuring more in terms of dwelling time. You can have 100,000 people come one day and do, but now the trend for us is we’re seeing them staying longer. Because there’s so much content, there’s so much knowledge, and so many companies with new technology, dwelling time is much longer, averaging 3.5 to 4 days,” she explained.

“Visitors and exhibitors are having deeper and more meaningful interactions at the show.”

The halls of DWTC will be divided into six sectors: 5G, AI, Future mobility, GITEX lifestyle tech, and Smart cities. It opens Oct. 6.