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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10 August 2019

Police in Hong Kong are launching tear gas canisters made in Pennsylvania

Author: Philadelphia Inquirer

After Hong Kong police fired 800 tear gas canisters at umbrella-wielding demonstrators on a single day… hundreds of empty aluminum shells littered the streets in the wake of the protests. Many of those shells were made in the Keystone State.

Pennsylvania is a leading manufacturer of tear gas, exported all over the globe. Combined Systems Inc. of Jamestown, south of Erie, and Nonlethal Technologies of Homer City, east of Pittsburgh, are among the top five companies in the world producing “riot control systems,” according to Visiongain, a market research firm based in London…

A spokesperson for Combined Systems, which also makes high-capacity Venom brand grenade launchers, did not return calls for comment. Combined Systems is owned by the Carlyle Group, which manages $13 billion in global assets. Michael Scott Oberdick and James A. Oberdick, the owners of Nonlethal Technologies, also declined to comment…

What police and protesters call tear gas is not a gas at all, said Anna Feigenbaum, a professor at Bournemouth University in England who wrote Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today. Rather, the chemical compounds are toxic powders that are aerosolized as a fog or spray.

“They are designed to attack the senses simultaneously, intentionally producing both physical and psychological trauma,” said Feigenbaum. “It acts as an irritant on multiple sites of the body at once, primarily affecting mucous membranes and respiratory system.”…

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1 August 2019

American Chamber of Commerce urges government to show clear leadership to restore Hong Kong's international reputation

Author: American Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong

“AmCham calls for firm government leadership to restore sagging business confidence”, 29 July 2019

International businesses are feeling pessimistic about the short-term prospects for Hong Kong as escalating violence and political deadlock take their toll on operations and fuel perceptions that the city is becoming a riskier place, a survey of AmCham members has found. The government should take immediate and tangible actions to address the root causes of recent demonstrations and restore confidence in the city’s status as Asia’s preeminent international business and financial center, members said.

 “AmCham urges the government to stem any further damage and show clear leadership in meeting the expectations of Hong Kong people and in restoring the city’s international reputation for effective governance under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” said AmCham President Tara Joseph…

AmCham members representing sectors ranging from financial services to logistics and tech suggested the following ideas for restoring confidence in Hong Kong: To formally and completely withdraw the Extradition Bill in order to remove any room for continued public doubt; to convene an internationally credible independent inquiry into all aspects of recent unrest over the bill, a move that will demonstrate fairness and justice under the rule of law…

… AmCham began surveying members on July 23 to gauge the ongoing impact – if any – on business sentiment. About 12 percent of our membership responded as of midnight on July 25…

The survey found that businesses are already reporting serious consequences from the disruption caused by weeks of mass demonstrations, political paralysis and outbreaks of violence and destructive acts in a city that has won an enviable reputation as one of the world’s safest places.These range from an immediate hit to revenue caused by disruption to supply chains and consumption, to longer term doubts over cancelled events and shelved investments. Respondents also reported a deepening perception within their companies and among overseas customers that Hong Kong has become less safe and a riskier place in which to conduct business…

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10 June 2019

Nordic chambers of commerce speak our against Hong Kong government's extradition bill

Author: Radio Television Hong Kong

”Nordic business groups query extradition bill”, 7 June 2019

The Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish chambers of commerce in Hong Kong issue a joint statement.

Four chambers representing businesses from the Nordic region have spoken out against the government's extradition laws bill - saying it's been "fast-tracked" in Legco without thorough consultation.

In a joint statement, the Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish chambers of commerce in Hong Kong say the proposed changes to the fugitive offender ordinance are likely to have important implications for international businesses operating here.

They said it's important to allow sufficient time for the SAR government to consider fully comments from different sectors, to ensure the bill is consistent with Hong Kong’s robust legal system and rule of law standards…

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29 May 2019

Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce urges government to introduce extra safeguards to controversial extradition bill

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

“Influential Hong Kong business body calls for extra safeguards in government’s controversial extradition bill”, 27 May 2019

Three extra layers of safeguards should be introduced to Hong Kong’s contentious extradition bill as those in place do not go far enough, one of the city’s most influential business groups told the security chief..

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce made its stance clear after a closed-door meeting with Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu over the proposed legislative amendments, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent back to mainland China.

The bill… has faced immense opposition from pan-democrats, businesspeople and foreign countries.

“Members remain concerned about the process and whether safeguards are adequate,” chamber chairman Aron Harilela said. “We also see persistent concerns expressed by the general community and the legal profession.”…

Harilela said the chamber had urged Lee to raise the threshold by allowing extraditions only for offences punishable by jail terms of at least seven years rather than three years as proposed, and to make it clear that rendition requests from the mainland would only be accepted if they came from the central government.

Hong Kong’s executive authority and the court should also be required to take into account human rights and humanitarian factors before giving the green light to fugitive transfer requests from jurisdictions the city does not have an agreement with, he said…

 “These safeguards are all the more important when the proposed regime is to be applied to all 170 jurisdictions where Hong Kong does not currently have a long-term agreement, many of which have a lower level of human rights protection compared to Hong Kong,” chamber CEO Shirley Yuen said.

Following a meeting with the chamber and other business groups in March, the government watered down the proposed legislation by exempting nine economic crimes out of the 46 extraditable offences and allowing extraditions only for offences punishable by three years’ imprisonment instead of one year as originally proposed…

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20 May 2019

American Chamber of Commerce urges Hong Kong government to withdraw extradition bill

“Hong Kong’s extradition proposal could undermine rule of law and competitiveness, says Tara Joseph of the American Chamber of Commerce”, 19 May 2019

Hong Kong’s leader should drop a contentious extradition bill to avoid hurting the city’s rule of law and hard-earned competitiveness, its most influential American business network has urged, amid escalating tensions that have polarised the city.

Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), offered the advice to Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in an exclusive interview with the Post, warning that pushing the bill through would risk “shooting Hong Kong in the foot”…

Joseph… called on the government to withdraw the bill.

“Hong Kong’s strength is based around the rule of law and its global reputation for valuing that rule of law and ‘one country, two systems’. Please don’t damage that … We would like to see [the extradition bill] dropped,” she said.

 “Hong Kong is known as a centre of excellence. There are many companies and businesses and people who would like to live and feel comfortable in Hong Kong. Damaging that is shooting Hong Kong in the foot.”

She said that, as far as she knew, there were fears among her members that the bill would hurt the city’s competitiveness, arguing that pushing ahead with the bill would undermine investor confidence.

“From a business perspective, there is widespread concern about the extradition bill as it is being seen as further chipping away at Hong Kong’s autonomy under one country, two systems,” she said…

 “This concern, whether it is perception or reality, is already having a negative impact on Hong Kong’s reputation as a global business centre. If people do not trust Hong Kong as an independent legal jurisdiction, then business will suffer,” she said. “To go forward with a bill like this is going to damage that type of sentiment. Can it really be worth it?”

AmCham, comprising 1,500 corporate members, is the biggest international business chamber in Hong Kong…

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10 May 2019

International Chamber of Commerce urges Hong Kong government to abandon controversial extradition bill

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

“International Chamber of Commerce – Hong Kong calls on government to halt extradition bill, saying global companies might ­reconsider locating offices in the city”, 8 May 2019

A prominent business group has urged the government to ­abandon its controversial ­extradition bill, saying the amendments to the fugitive law would force businesses to ­reconsider if they should locate their regional offices in the city.

The International Chamber of Commerce – Hong Kong (ICCHK) made the comment a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ruled out making any changes to the bill, which has stalled in the Legislative Council amid filibustering by pan-democrats and opposition from the city’s business sector and human rights groups.

In a letter to lawmakers… the ICCHK complained that the government’s public consultation period was too short for an issue that so deeply affects life and work in the city.

… The ICCHK is made up of leading companies and professionals as well as chambers of commerce and business groups. The ICCHK does not reveal the total number of its members, but its aim is to promote the city’s business interests in the global community…

 “Business and overseas investment are attracted to and stay in Hong Kong because they have confidence in its rule of law and an independent judiciary,” the chamber said in its letter to lawmakers.

 “But the proposed changes will lead people to reconsider whether to choose Hong Kong as their base of operations or the regional headquarters because there is the risk of their being handed over to another jurisdiction that does not provide the protection they enjoy in Hong Kong.”…

… the chamber called for the government to stop the legislative process of the bill until proper consultation was conducted…

“Given the gross inadequacies of the proposed amendments, enactment of the bill would mean more people in Hong Kong would be at risk of losing freedom, property and even their lives in the future – than merely passing judgment on the convicted in the Taiwan case,” the chamber said…

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said the proposed amendments were meant to protect the law-abiding general public in Hong Kong…

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