Hong Kong businesses pledge closures as extradition anger builds

Massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 failed to win any concessions while protest leaders have been imprisoned or banned from politics.

By Author  |  Published: 11th Jun 2019  3:34 pm
Police stand guard at fencing surrounding the Legislative Council to help block protesters.

Hong Kong: Scores of Hong Kong businesses have vowed to shut down for a day as anger builds over the government’s push to allow extraditions to China, with opponents on Tuesday announcing plans for fresh protests and strikes.

The financial hub was rocked by a huge rally over the weekend — the largest since the city’s 1997 return to China — as vast crowds called on the city’s leaders to scrap the Beijing-backed plan.

Many are fearful the proposed law will tangle people up in the mainland’s opaque courts and hammer Hong Kong’s reputation as an international business hub.

Organisers said more than a million hit the streets on Sunday but the record crowds have failed to sway chief executive Carrie Lam who has rejected calls to withdraw or delay the bill and warned opponents against committing “radical acts”.

On Wednesday the proposal will have its second and third readings in the city’s parliament, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists, making its passing all but assured.

Protest groups have vowed to stage a fresh rally outside parliament that morning — although it was not yet clear whether police would allow a demonstration to take place. Organisers have billed the gathering as a “picnic” in a park next to the building.

A separate online petition calling on protesters to gather Tuesday evening and camp overnight outside parliament may prove more controversial — in the early hours of Monday, police fought running battles with small groups of hardline protesters who had made similar plans to spend the night.

Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, business owners took to social media using a hashtag that translates as “#612strike” — the date of the proposed action — to announce solidarity closures.

A large chunk are mom-and-pop style stores and small businesses that are a key part of the city’s economy, but which often eschew the city’s raucous street politics.

By Tuesday morning, more than 100 businesses had declared plans to strike, ranging from coffee shops and restaurants to camera stores, toy shops, nail salons, yoga studios and even an adult entertainment store.

“Hong Kong was built by our various generations with hard work,” wrote Meet Yoga studio on its Instagram account. “A Hong Kong without freedom — how about we just wipe it off the map entirely and call it China?” Lawyer Michael Vidler said he would allow his 12 employees to “act in accordance with their conscience” and go on strike.

More than 1,600 airline employees signed a petition calling on their union to strike while a bus driver union said it would encourage members to drive deliberately slowly on Wednesday to support protests.

Some teacher, nursing and social worker groups have said they planned to strike.

On Tuesday, Lam warned against strikes, a protest method that is not readily embraced in the business-centric city.

“I urge schools, parents, groups, corporations and unions to carefully consider, if they call for these radical acts, what good would it do for Hong Kong society and our youth,” RTHK quoted her as saying.

The proposed law would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which it does not already have a treaty — including mainland China.

Hong Kong’s leaders say it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives and that safeguards are in place to ensure political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.

But many Hong Kongers have little faith in those assurances after years of heightened fears that a resurgent Beijing is trying to quash the city’s unique freedoms and culture.

Massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 failed to win any concessions while protest leaders have been imprisoned or banned from politics.

The extradition proposal has resurrected what had been a somewhat moribund opposition movement in recent years.

The opposition unites a wide cross-section of the city, including lawyers and legal bodies, business figures and chambers of commerce, journalists, activists and religious leaders.
On Monday evening the pastor of a usually pro-government mega-church issued a statement saying he could not support the bill.

Western governments have also voiced alarm including the US which reiterated “great concern” about the bill saying it would “damage Hong Kong’s business environment and subject our citizens residing in or visiting Hong Kong to China’s capricious judicial system”.

In 2003 a large demonstration led to the government shelving a controversial national security law and set in motion the eventual resignation of the then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

But in recent years, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leaders have taken a harder line and resisted protester demands.