The city of Hong Kong, which has enjoyed relatively free trading laws from mainland China and has established itself as a major trading centre over the years, may be at risk of capital fleeing due to draconian laws that China seeks to impose on it, curbing its trade and the political freedom it enjoyed.
The problem begins with Beijing's plan to enact national security laws in May 2020 over the whole country, including Hong Kong, which has had an independent judiciary, loose business regulation, low trade barriers and guarantees of freedom of expression until now. The national security law aims to target sedition and terrorist activities. This comes after anti-Beijing protests last year which had cases of extreme violence against the public.
This raises many questions for those doing business because there is a great fear that the definition of national security is so vague and ambiguous that China may accord severe punishment for petty crimes or dissent.
However, the Hong Kong officials have responded by support for the law. The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has said that this law addresses problems which the business sector has been “worrying about over the past year.” Leung Chun-ying, a top Chinese advisor, has said that the law does not “hinder foreign investors”, nor “hinder the freedom enjoyed by local residents”.
The fear still abounds, with a significant number of people seeking to flee the city, the largest fall in the local stock market since 2008 after the announcement of the security law and the doubling of the funds deposited in Singaporean banks, which is attributed to the situation in Hong Kong by economists.
Many investment firms have expressed their concerns on tightening of the grip by mainland China on Hong Kong. William Kaye, a longtime investor in China and founder of Pacific Group, the investment firm, has said that “what is just a trickle could become a flood of capital out.”
The US government has also lodged a strong protest with China against the imposition of draconian security law on Hong Kong. It is important to note that the USA has granted special status in trading to Hong Kong which has given some competitive advantages and contributed to the business growth of Hong Kong.
The US had warned China that with the new security law, the special status granted to Hong Kong will be revoked by the USA. As China failed to do so, the USA revoked Hong Kong’s Special Status through an executive order by President Trump on July 14, 2020.
A revocation of its special status would mark “the beginning of the death of Hong Kong as we know it,” Steve Tsang, director of the University of London’s SOAS China Institute, said last year.
Apart from the special status revocation, the same day President Trump also signed an Hong Kong Autonomy Act to impose sanctions on foreign individuals and entities for ‘contributing to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.’ Under this law, persons responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong can be subject to sanctions like visa bans and asset freezes.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has said it’s “totally unacceptable” for foreign legislatures to interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, and that sanctions would only complicate the city’s problems. She also gave reassurance to the investors that Hong Kong adheres to the rule of law and has an independent judiciary.
The Chinese attempt to exert greater control over Hong Kong and the protest by the local people with moral support from the international community has once again put the spotlight on the behaviour of China, as it is trying to establish itself as a global economic and military super power.
The people of Hong Kong have unfortunately become a pawn in the great game of geopolitical power projection. It is still too early to predict whether China will blink first and roll back the draconian law or Hong Kong will end up as collateral damage in China’s quest for a place on the high table of global power players.