Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders and U.S. lawmakers will gather in Montana this week for a four-day dialogue to discuss the protests that have rocked the city for 12 weeks.
But first, they’re reaching out to the business community in New York to calm nerves rattled by a prolonged crisis in Asia’s financial hub.
Alvin Yeung, leader of the Civic Party, told Yahoo Finance that he met with several financial firms during his trip to New York last week to quell fears about the future of Hong Kong.
“[Hong Kong] is not an ordinary city of China. Hong Kong is an international financial center that a lot of countries have a stake in,” Yeung said. “[Businesses] are paying extra attention to Hong Kong so we are bringing them the first-hand experience on what’s going on. It’s up to them to make their decisions.”
Yeung said he did not want to identify which firms he met with out of fear of any backlash.
More than 1,300 U.S. firms operate in Hong Kong, and 85,000 Americans reside there, according to the U.S. State Department. The territory has long been considered a destination for foreign firms looking for an entry point into the lucrative mainland Chinese market without its constraints. The United States-Hong Kong Policy Act, passed in 1992, grants the city special treatment for customs and commercial purposes, but businesses have increasingly grown concerned that that special status may be stripped if Beijing moves to crack down on the demonstrations.
“I’m not here to lobby anybody to do anything. I’m just here to tell the truth,” Yeung said. “I’m just here to share what I’ve observed, and it’s up to the American policy makers to the right decisions.”
The visit comes as demonstrations show no signs of stopping. This weekend roughly 1.7 million people — a quarter of Hong Kong’s population — took to the streets to march peacefully in the rain, defying a police ban.
Beijing has shown little tolerance for any businesses showing deference to the protestors. Last week, the chief executive of Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific resigned under pressure after Chinese authorities called for the dismissal of airline employees who took part in the demonstrations.
On Friday, the Big Four accounting firms — KPMG, Deloitte, PWC, and Ernst & Young — came under scrutiny after employees anonymoulsy took out a full-page ad in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper in support of the demonstrations, vowing never to “fear or compromise with injustice and unfairness.” That prompted the firms to release separate statements distancing themselves from the ad.
Meanwhile, China’s state-run tabloid the Global Times called for the companies to investigate who was behind the ad —and fire employees involved.
CEOs have largely remained mum in the face of escalating tensions, in part out of fear of being shut out of mainland China, where the economy is outpacing growth in many major countries, even in the face of a slowdown.
On Monday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence tied the Hong Kong demonstrations to trade negotiations with China, warning that any crackdown by Beijing will make it harder for Washington to make a trade deal.
“For the United States to make a deal with China, Beijing needs to honor its commitments, including the commitment China made in 1984 to respect the integrity of Hong Kong’s laws through Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Pence said.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers will gather in Montana this week, to meet with Yeung and other Pro-Democracy representatives as well as Pro-Beijing lawmakers to discuss Hong Kong in a “full and frank way,” Yeung said.
That may include potential U.S. actions, in the case of any escalation by Beijing.
Earlier this summer, New Jersey Congressman Christopher Smith introduced a bill that would require an annual review of Hong Kong’s special trade status under the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, saying “Hong Kong must remain sufficiently autonomous from the People’s Republic of China to justify a different treatment under a particular law of the United States.”
Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @AkikoFujita
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