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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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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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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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6 September 2019

Extradition bill’s withdrawal ‘is first step’ in getting Hong Kong back to business

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong’s business community welcomed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s decision… to withdraw her administration’s proposed extradition bill, with industry groups calling it the first step to restoring confidence and the city’s international reputation.

After three months of protests against the bill, Lam said the proposed legislation would be dropped completely as one of four measures to ease public concern and allow the city to move forward…

The measures were in response to the protesters’ five demands, which included withdrawing the bill completely and setting up a commission of inquiry into the police’s use of force…

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) welcomed the government’s response.

“Withdrawing the bill is an important first step to restore business confidence and the city’s international reputation. We believe an enhanced inquiry via the Independent Police Complaints Council to look into the events since June is a positive step ahead,” AmCham chairman Robert Grieves said…

Joe Chau Kwok-ming, president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business, also said that withdrawing the bill was a first step to showing the administration’s goodwill in resolving the political crisis…

Chinese Manufacturers’ Association president Dennis Ng Wang-pun said the announcement was vital to reducing tensions in the city…

Stewart Leung Chi-kin, executive committee chairman of the Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong, said the announcement was a “good start” and “better than not doing anything”… [Also referred to Midland Realty, Henderson Land Development, Sun Hung Kai Properties, CK Hutchison Holdings and Chinachem Group]

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6 September 2019

Hong Kong lawmaker and protesters demand CCTV footage of police storming MTR station

Author: Holmes Chan, Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong’s rail operator has come under increasing pressure to release CCTV footage of Prince Edward MTR station from the night of August 31, when riot police stormed the platform and trains using pepper spray and batons.

… a growing crowd of people joined a sit-in outside the station’s control room, saying they would not leave until the footage was released. Some wore placards that read: “We have the right to know the truth.”

Pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo previously wrote to the chairperson of the MTR Corporation, asking that the surveillance footage of Prince Edward, Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei stations from August 31 be made public…  “MTRC’s actions have caused great panic, leading the public to question whether it helped the police to cover up injuries or casualties… the CCTV footage is the only way to reconstruct the truth.”

Responding to media inquiries, the MTRC said… that the relevant footage from Prince Edward station will be kept for three years.

A company representative told lawmaker Mo via WhatsApp: “Generally speaking, CCTV footage would be kept for 28 days according to our established rules and procedures. Only authorised persons may view them. In any event, many CCTVs have been damaged earlier on that night.”

Mo added that she was told the MTRC would turn over its surveillance footage if there was a court order to do so. In the meantime, lawmakers were not allowed to watch it because they do not fall under the category of “authorised persons.”

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung said he had received assurances that the CCTV footage would typically be kept for 28 days. Cheung said he was trying to get legal advice to see if there were public interest grounds for lawmakers to see the footage…

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6 September 2019

Hong Kong protestor site accused Baidu and Qihoo of cyber attacks; cybersecurity expert said attacks initiated by Chinese websites were unlikely

Author: Jane Li, Quartz

“A Hong Kong protester site says cyber attacks against it piggy-backed off China’s Baidu”, 2 September 2019

… LIHKG, the de facto online headquarters for protestors, who use the website to exchange tips and comments about the movement, said it came under an “unprecedented” distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack on Aug. 31, with the episode leading to denied access to the website for some of its users. DDoS is a form of cyber attack that floods a targeted machine or server with so many requests the system gets overloaded and can’t fulfill some or all legitimate requests from actual users.

“We have reasons to believe that there is a power, or even a national level power behind to organize such attacks as botnet from all over the world were manipulated in launching this attack,” the website, which is run by anonymous operators, announced in a post…

The forum identified two Chinese websites as being among those involved in the attack, including Baidu Tieba, an online forum under Baidu, the largest search engine in China, and qihucdn.com, which some LIHKG users believe belongs to Qihoo360, a Chinese internet security firm. Baidu declined to comment, while Qihoo360 did not reply to a request for a comment.

K, a cybersecurity expert… said his diagnosis shows the attacks were unlikely initiated by Baidu and the other Chinese websites themselves. Rather, he suspects the attacks happened because the websites were perhaps “compromised” through some malicious Javascript inserted in their content delivery network (CDN), a system of distributed servers that deliver pages and other web content to users. According to K, the “compromised” scripts could effectively lead to the computers of anyone that visits the affected Chinese websites to launch the DDoS attack on LIHKG.

It is unclear whether Baidu or Qihoo is aware of the issue, or which organization might have inserted malicious scripts into the servers, he added…[Also referred to Telegram, Twitter, Github]

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6 September 2019

Hong Kong: Union urges cleaners to be provided protective gear when cleaning up after anti-government protests

Author: Ng Kang Chung, South China Morning Post

“Hong Kong’s cleaners don’t have proper protection against effects of tear gas as they pick up pieces after protests”, 4 September 2019

A union representing workers who clean Hong Kong’s streets, public toilets and markets has asked they be provided with protective gear as anti-government violence continues to escalate. The Cleaning Workers Union also wants rules eased so workers can stop what they are doing without fear of being punished if clashes break out near them.

A survey of 75 cleaners… found that none of them were properly protected from the effects of tear gas, and some complained about eye and respiratory pain after being exposed to the chemical weapon…

 “Although the government contracts out cleaning work to private companies, the government still has an obligation to make sure the workers are safe,” she [the union’s spokeswoman] said.

“The government should give more guidelines to the contractors, say, the cleaners should have an early leave before protests happen. Even the MTR closes stations before big protests.”…

In response, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it attached great importance to the safety of employees working for its contractors.

“In case there is protest or mass public event that could affect the safety of cleaners, we would ask the cleaners to stop work, and for the company to send them to a safe and suitable site elsewhere to work,” said the department in a statement…

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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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12 September 2019

US lawmakers introduce bill to stop tear gas sales to Hong Kong

Author: Owen Churchill, South China Morning Post

US congressional representatives announced legislation… calling for a ban on sales of riot control equipment to Hong Kong law enforcement services…

If passed, the bill would prohibit US companies from exporting so-called non-lethal crowd control items like tear gas, as well as defence articles and services, to Hong Kong, where the local police force is facing growing criticism of its response to protests…

Titled the PROTECT Hong Kong Act… [the] bill is sponsored by Representatives James McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, Christopher Smith, Republican of New Jersey, and Ro Khanna, Democrat of California… As well as barring defence-related sales to Hong Kong, the new law would also require the Secretary of State to issue a report to Congress detailing all the defence articles and munition items that had been exported to the city over the five years leading up to the bill’s date of enactment…

“America ought to recognise the human rights and dignity of all people,” said McGovern, who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission alongside Smith. “And that means we ought not to allow American companies to sell this equipment to foreign governments when we see evidence that it is being used for immoral and unjust purposes.”

… the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had reviewed credible evidence that law enforcement officials in Hong Kong had employed non-lethal weapons “in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards”… [Also referred to Nonlethal Technologies]

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16 September 2019

HSBC chairman Mark Tucker condemns violent protests in Hong Kong

Author: Amanda Lee, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

… Speaking publicly for the first time about the summer of unrest, HSBC chairman Mark Tucker said Hong Kong thrived because of its stability, resilience and rule of law.

“Its rule of law is essential to its status as an international financial centre. And we fully support the resolving of the issues peacefully, but under the framework of one country, two systems,” Tucker said in an interview with China Central Television…

“And we really look forward to being part of a peaceful and prosperous Hong Kong and clearly supporting China’s growth and development.

“We strongly condemn violence of any sort, any kind of disruption to communities where customers, staff and shareholders are based. We clearly have deep concern.”…

Tucker is the most senior executive from the British bank to join the chorus of business leaders condemning violence sparked by protests against the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

His comments follow advertisements in several Hong Kong Chinese-language broadsheet newspapers… [in August] by HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia, calling for calm and a return to order…

[Also referred to Cathay Pacific, KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Zara]

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