Hong Kong Still Open for Business Amidst Protests
By Alastair Bruce, Tardis Group Director, Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a great city. It’s a dynamic place to do business in Asia because of its location, low taxation, free economy and good international legal system. Many foreign companies have set up business gateways to China here, making it Asia’s key multicultural business hub. We have fantastic infrastructure – the public transport here is second to none. It’s an amazing city in a multitude of ways and so it’s incredibly sad to see chaos in the streets.
Five months ago, protesting began over fears around proposed extradition laws. Hong Kong prides itself on supporting free speech and those first demonstrations, held on the weekends, led to those laws being abandoned. Despite the outcome, however, the protesting continues, having morphed into increasingly violent rallies demanding universal suffrage.
The anti-government protests over the past two weeks have been – in my view – fuelled and escalated through social and traditional media channels. They appear to be without any real leadership and have become more ruthless, damaging and violent, spreading into the working week as well as weekends.
I came to Hong Kong at the end of 2002, just before the great SARS outbreak that rattled the city.
In the late 90s, I worked as a stockbroker in Jakarta and witnessed army tanks rolling through the streets amidst riots after the downfall of the Suharto regime. For a time that city was paralysed and the value of the currency plunged. And, of course, none of us will ever forget the horror of 9/11 in New York. While just a couple of examples, what I’m saying is, we’ve seen turmoil disrupt key centres around the world and generally they recover.
Today in Hong Kong, most of us just want to get on with our lives. We want to go to work, do our jobs and enjoy life in a great city. Hong Kong is resilient. Sure, some schools have been closed and many of us have worked from home for a couple of days, but we’re finding innovative ways to keep life as normal as possible. Business is continuing around the mayhem and while economic activity is reportedly down a few percent, to be honest, a greater threat to the economy here is the global economic slowdown and uncertainty around US/China trade.
Clients are still ringing me looking for great candidates at VP level (or higher) for front office finance, investment banking, markets and asset management, often with tech expertise and preferably with English and Mandarin language proficiency and Chinese contacts.
There’s a massive listing unfolding on the Hong Kong stock exchange of the Chinese E-commerce group Alibaba. It’s touted as the biggest IPO globally for 2019. This is obviously a stamp of confidence in the future of Hong Kong and most of the big banks here are involved in some way. So while the protests may unfortunately continue, the Alibaba float will be the focus in Hong Kong for many bankers before they fly away for their Christmas breaks.
The physical damage to our city is deplorable and the violence so unnecessary, but people are not running away from Hong Kong (permanently) at this point. Should this violence continue for, say, another six months, it could result in valuable human assets leaving Hong Kong – I hope we don’t get to that. Most of us are hoping that common sense and cool heads will prevail. If not, it’ll be interesting to see the knock-on effects going into 2020.