AmCham urges action to quell growing business concerns

The American Chamber of Commerce’s Hong Kong chapter urged government action to address grievances underlying the city’s recent unrest, saying steps must be taken to restore sagging business confidence.

Hong Kong’s leaders should appoint an “internationally credible” independent inquiry into all aspects of the protest movement and formally withdraw the now-suspended extradition legislation that prompted the demonstrations, AmCham said. The chamber said its statement represented the views of a “clear majority” of its members surveyed in recent days.

“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,” AmCham President Tara Joseph said, referencing the framework that has guaranteed the city’s autonomy since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

She later told Bloomberg Television that pessimism is “creeping in after eight weeks of protests and really uncertainty about what is coming next.”

Joseph said that in this type of environment, it would be normal for companies to look at backup plans for their Hong Kong operations – but that they aren’t moving yet. “The real hope here is that Hong Kong can in the long term restore its credibility and maintain a very strong international finance center,” she said.

As sometimes-violent protests continued for the eighth-straight weekend and showed no signs of stopping, the group’s international members – which range from financial services firms to logistics companies – suggested the government heed at least some of the protesters’ demands.

The call from international business follows a similar statement from the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce last week, which also called for the withdrawal of the extradition bill and the appointment of a commission of inquiry into the recent unrest. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the bill allowing the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China was “dead,” but refused to formally withdraw it.

AmCham said members reported that some overseas customers have said Hong Kong “has become less safe and a riskier place in which to conduct business,” and that the primary winner of the decline in its reputation was rival Asian financial center Singapore.

“While members made clear Hong Kong’s many unique competitive advantages remain largely intact, they voiced concern that a failure to address the instability and worsening perceptions toward the city now may lead to irreparable damage over the long term,” AmCham’s statement said. Iain Marlow, Bloomberg

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