Hong Kong: Business actions and statements over controversial extradition bill

In February 2019, the Hong Kong government proposed the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, more commonly known as the extradition bill. While allowing the transfer of a suspect from Hong Kong to Taiwan for a murder case, the proposed bill would also allow the transfer of criminal suspects to other jurisdictions with which the city has no extradition agreements, including mainland China. The proposal bill has faced widespread criticism and opposition both domestically and internationally. Many worry that the bill would destroy the rule of law in Hong Kong and put the integrity of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle at stake. The anti-extradition law sentiment intensified in June, sparking off a series of street protests, including two large-scale protests on 9 June and 16 June in which millions of citizens took to the street and urged the government to fully withdraw the bill.

Some stakeholders from the business sector have also publicly expressed their concerns that the bill might undermine overseas investors’ confidence in Hong Kong and damage the reputation of the city as an international financial centre. 

On 9 July, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region, said that there was no plan to restart the amendment process and that “the bill is dead”. On 4 Sptember, Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill. 

In August, "Cathay Pacific Airways…said it had sacked a pilot who was arrested and charged over clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Sheung Wan on July 28. Another cockpit crew member…who was revealed…to have been suspended for misusing company information related to the protests, also had his employment terminated."; it was reported that at least 20 aviation professionals had been fired or had resigned amidst the ongoing anti-government protests. Cathay Pacific also urged staff members to "speak up" under its whistle-blowing policy in an internal memo, raising concern over Cathay’s responsibility to respect the human rights of its employees… "Similar questions have been raised about the responsibility of companies supplying tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to Hong Kong Police"

MTR, Hong Kong's rail operator, has come under increasing pressure when protestors and lawmakers asked for the release of the CCTV footage at Prince Edward station from the night of 31 August "when riot police stormed the platform and trains using pepper spray and batons". MTR said in response to media inquiries that "the relevant footage from Prince Edward station will be kept for three years".


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6 September 2019

Made In America: For $9.50 An Hour, They Brew Tear Gas For Hong Kong

Author: Rosalind Adams, Buzzfeed News

A BuzzFeed News investigation found low-paid American workers producing tear gas in potentially dangerous conditions. It's then shipped to Hong Kong, where it's used against pro-democracy protesters…

Employees described aging equipment that caught fire and injuries and severe irritation caused by working long hours with chemicals. After one of its buildings burned down, the company declined to rebuild the facility, instead shifting more of the production into shipping containers. The company has been fined multiple times for safety violations by the Department of Labor… Yet while its American workers are paid very little to work in potentially dangerous conditions, its shipments continue — largely to foreign governments who reap the benefits of its products, employees said…

One of the owners of Nonlethal Technologies answered questions briefly outside the factory before asking BuzzFeed News to leave the premises, and did not respond to more in-depth emailed questions.

Shifts at Nonlethal Technologies begin at 6:30 a.m. and stretch until 5 p.m. The starting pay is $9.50 an hour, barely up from $8 an hour when the factory opened nearly 20 years ago, said workers…

Most of the time staff are required to wear a protective suit, gloves, and a full-face gas mask… Even with the protective gear, flakes of the chemicals get everywhere…

Nonlethal Technologies’ sales materials say that its testing procedures ensure “the highest reliability and performance of our end products and strict conformity to our printed specifications.” But employees said the testing involved little more than using a stopwatch to check how long it took for a product to ignite or emit smoke in one of the storage containers…

The processes that workers described raised the concern of safety experts. “That doesn’t sound like a very safe process to me,” said Kenneth Brown, a consultant on chemical safety standards, told BuzzFeed News…

 “There were really no safety practices when I was there,” said Dawson, who spent 15 years working at the factory…

There aren’t many restrictions on US companies selling tear gas overseas, beyond applying for an export license from the Department of Commerce… Federal regulations also outline that the government generally grants these licenses unless there’s evidence that a country may have violated international human rights standards…

… in August, US legislators, including McGovern, wrote to the secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling for a ban on exports of tear gas from the US to Hong Kong…

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1 September 2019

Banks in Hong Kong condemn violence, urge restoration of 'harmony'

Author: Reuters (UK)

Some of Hong Kong’s biggest banks published full-page newspaper advertisements… calling for the preservation of law and order in the Chinese territory and condemning violence, as weeks of pro-democracy protests show no sign of abating.

HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia, which published the advertisements in major newspapers in the Asian financial hub, all urged the restoration of social order…

Standard Chartered said in... advertisements the bank supported the special administrative region’s government to uphold social order and “guard the status of Hong Kong as an international financial center”.

HSBC said all parties must resolve disagreement through communication rather than violence. Neither HSBC nor Bank of East Asia referred to the government in their advertisements…

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1 September 2019

Chinese manufacturer reportedly sells anti-riot gear to Hong Kong police

Author: Clifford Lo & Liu Zhen, South China Morning Post

"Hong Kong police get new anti-riot gear from mainland Chinese supplier", 27 August 2019

Hong Kong police have turned to a mainland manufacturer for their anti-riot protective gear, placing an order with the same company which has supplied law enforcement units in the Middle East…

Police sources said it was the first time supplies for the force had been sourced from the mainland. Previously, Hong Kong police procured equipment, including protective gear, from Britain or France.

However, Britain suspended export licences to Hong Kong for crowd control equipment in June over human rights concerns, and called for an investigation into violent scenes during the protests…

According to mainland sources, the new suits are manufactured by Guangzhou Wave Science and Technology Development…

When contacted… Guangzhou Wave Science and Technology Development declined to comment. According to information posted on its website, the company produces equipment for the Chinese military and police, and exports to markets including Israel, Iraq, Thailand, Malaysia, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon.


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1 September 2019

China’s disinformation on Hong Kong protests is on Twitter and Facebook

Author: Tripti Lahiri, Quartz

… Twitter… said it had found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement.” It’s suspended 936 accounts originating from within China that “were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.” It also created an archive of the accounts for further research.

Twitter’s announcement came after a thread from Maciej Cegłowski, the outspoken developer behind the @Pinboard Twitter account, as well as news reports, which flagged promoted messages from Chinese state-run news media such as Xinhua showing up in users’ feeds. Twitter is blocked in China, but the platform said that some of the accounts were using unblocked IP addresses originating in mainland China.

Twitter also said it was updating its advertising policies to stop taking ads from state-controlled news media; the policy will not apply to publicly funded but independent news broadcasters…

Facebook also announced… that it had removed seven pages, three groups, and five accounts linked to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on the Hong Kong protests…

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1 September 2019

Crackdown on Chinese accounts shows US social media giants becoming ‘more proactive’

Author: Simone McCarthy, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

The swift crackdown on an alleged disinformation campaign linked to Hong Kong’s anti-government protests shows social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are becoming more proactive about dismantling influence operations, according to analysts…

Pressure from the United States, the European Council and others to root out political disinformation, and the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in April… had pushed the platforms to do more to monitor politically motivated and state-sponsored activities, they said.

“We haven’t seen this kind of speed and coordination before [from the platforms], it’s always been dragging and kicking social media companies to do something – here they seem to have been more proactive. The explanation has to be more than technical, and it has to be more than geopolitical,” said David Fidler, adjunct senior fellow for cybersecurity at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York…

… Twitter suspended 936 accounts and Facebook closed five accounts, seven pages and three groups.

YouTube’s parent company Google… said it had disabled 210 channels for “coordinated” uploads of videos relating to the Hong Kong protests…

Statements from Facebook and Google also noted coordination between the companies in their investigations. Facebook confirmed it had acted on a tip from Twitter, while Google confirmed exchanging information with “industry partners” when investigating threats.

That level of coordination was indicative of how the companies had “scaled up” their investment around security and detection of platform manipulation… according to Jake Wallis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre…

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1 September 2019

Google shuts down 210 Youtube channels posting ‘coordinated’ disinformation about Hong Kong protests

Author: Anthony Cuthbertson, Independent (UK)

Google has removed hundreds of YouTube channels for uploading videos in a “coordinated manner” about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The technology giant said 210 channels were disabled in order to protect the integrity of its platform, pointing to Chinese attempts to spread disinformation and manipulate the pro-democracy protests.

The move comes just days after Facebook and Twitter removed accounts linked to China that were being used to undermine the protests.

“Earlier this week, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat coordinated influence operations, we disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos relating to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” Google said in a statement.

“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”…

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1 September 2019

Twitter cracks down on state media after unveiling Chinese campaign against Hong Kong protesters

Author: CNN

Twitter will no longer accept advertisements from state-controlled media outlets, the company announced… 

"We want to protect healthy discourse and open conversation," Twitter said in a statement posted on its website.

Twitter said the new policy would only apply to "news media entities that are either financially or editorially controlled by the state." While state media cannot pay for advertisements that would amplify their message, they will be allowed to continue posting on the platform. Twitter said the new restrictions do not apply to outlets funded by taxpayers, or independent public broadcasters.

The new policy was announced shortly after Twitter said it had identified a network of more than 900 accounts originating in China that "were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement."…

It also came after BuzzFeed News and others reported that media outlets in China, most of which are funded by the state and tightly controlled by authorities in Beijing, had been buying advertisements on Facebook and Twitter that portrayed the protests negatively... 

... Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that "people will have their own judgments about what is happening in Hong Kong, and what the truth is."

"I think it is reasonable that Chinese media use overseas social media to communicate with local people, to tell stories about China, to introduce Chinese policies," he said… [Also referred to Facebook]

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29 August 2019

Cathay Pacific whistle-blowing policy urging staff to ‘speak up’ under spotlight as Hong Kong employees fear possible reprisals for support of anti-government protests

Author: Danny Lee & Sum Lok-kei, South China Morning Post

In an internal memo… Cathay Pacific Airways has reminded its staff about its policy to speak up and act as “whistle-blowers” as a climate of fear grows among the airline’s employees about possible reprisals for their activities on social media…

… It was feared the policy could encourage staff to report on colleagues, rather than protecting employees who feel they are being unfairly targeted from repercussions.

…The revised code of conduct added a new section on political activities, which barred staff from using company resources to express political opinions, and which stipulated that should staff seek permission to take part in protests, and should not wear uniform while doing so and should not give the impression the company has endorsed the protest.

It also outlined – as staff were previously warned last week – that taking part in illegal political activities was unacceptable, and could ultimately result in an investigation and dismissal from the firm.

Tom Owen, the airline’s human resources chief, told staff in a memo… “We do not take any of these decisions lightly and for every decision we make, we believe it is in the best interest of the Cathay Pacific Group, taking into account all the relevant factors,”…

The point was a reference in particular to the company submitting names of staff to Chinese authorities for pre-approval before flights entering or overflying China…

… at least 20 aviation professionals, including one engineer, had been sacked or had resigned after Beijing exerted pressure on companies to crack down on the anti-government movement sweeping the city…

A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said the whistle-blowing policy was not a newly added item to its code of conduct… “We are committed to creating an environment in which our colleagues are encouraged and protected to share any potential risk about safety and security”… the company also warned that staff’s social media postings would be heavily scrutinised, adding that those expressing support for illegal anti-government protests in Hong Kong could fall foul of a strict new policy being forced on the airline by mainland China’s aviation authority…

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29 August 2019

Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon fires flight attendant union chief amid pressure from China

Author: Kris Cheng, Hong Kong Free Press

Airline Cathay Dragon has fired the chair of its flight attendant union Rebecca Sy after she allegedly posted messages of support for Hong Kong protesters on Facebook...

At a… press conference, Sy said she had been able to fly to Beijing and back to Hong Kong… However, she was told not to work on a scheduled Hangzhou trip after the Beijing flight. She said she was told to go to Cathay Pacific’s headquarters… and was shown three Facebook screenshots which she confirmed were hers. She was then immediately terminated…

Carol Ng, chair of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the aviation industry was likely targeted because it had the highest participation rate in the August 5 strike…

Cathay Pacific, the parent company of Cathay Dragon, declined to comment on internal employee matters.

In a new statement issued… Cathay Pacific Director Corporate Affairs James Tong said: “Cathay Pacific wishes to emphasise it fully supports the upholding of the Basic Law and all the rights and freedoms afforded by it.” “We are a leading international airline with global operations and therefore we are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where we operate,” it added…

Cathay Pacific has faced pressure from China as the CAAC imposed new safety rules on the airline… forcing the carrier to prevent employees supportive of the Hong Kong protests to board flights to, or passing over, China.

… Cathay Pacific released a statement saying Sy’s dismissal had nothing to do with her activities in the union but declined to elaborate further on the reason for her departure. “We would like to reiterate that we do not in any way discriminate against union members or their activities…” it read…


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29 August 2019

‘Zero tolerance’: Cathay Pacific warns staff face sack if they join Hong Kong strike

Author: AFP, Hong Kong Free Press

Cathay Pacific has warned staff they risk being sacked if they join a planned Hong Kongstrike, as the airline intensifies its crackdown on employee support for the rolling pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier… has been accused of bowing to political pressure from China, whose aviation regulator has banned airline staff who have supported the demonstrations from working on flights through its airspace.

In an internal memo to staff, a Cathay director, Tom Owen, said participating in a strike planned for Monday and Tuesday could constitute a breach of contract. “We expect all of our employees to report for work as normal and over this period and will be monitoring attendance levels closely,” he said in the memo… “Any breach of policy or regulatory requirements will be investigated and may lead to termination of contract.”

The memo caps a sharp U-turn by the airline which publicly supported the right to free expression of its workforce earlier this month, only to crumble in the face of pressure from Beijing…

Several staff have told AFP they believe a witchhunt is underway, with employees frantically deleting social media posts and gutting their friends lists fearing disciplinary action if they are found to have any links with the protests.

The company has also issued a revised code of conduct to employees including reiterating its “zero tolerance” approach to staff participating in “illegal protests”.

Protest groups are calling for a general strike on Monday and Tuesday, three months into escalating pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city and damaged Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable business hub…

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