In today’s Mainlandization of Hong Kong: sandwich-throwing with anti-Communist intent now warrants a jail sentence, and ‘disrespecting’ the national anthem is to be a crime, perhaps carrying a penalty equivalent to that on the Mainland, under legislation that will possibly be retroactive.
A Reuters column review of recent Penguin books on Hong Kong asks what Mainlandization means for the international businesses in the city. Maybe, the writer says, if you can operate in Dubai, Moscow or Beijing, Hong Kong will remain a breeze – but at some point creeping censorship and ‘rule by law’ must hurt the business environment.
So far, it is business as usual for Western companies here. Like their local counterparts, many are co-opted into the ceremonial political structure via such devices as Functional Constituencies. They still get a slice of the action from the infrastructure, tourism and other crony/policy scams. And of course they are here ultimately to salivate over the billion-consumer Chinese economic-miracle dream-vision. If they are worried by threats to rule of law and free speech in Hong Kong, they are not going to risk showing it.
Instead, they will shoe-shine. They can recite Beijing’s buzz-words (which frankly costs nothing). They can discreetly echo the official line on how political protests harm the economy (several were pressured into signing public petitions during Occupy). If they know what’s good for them, they will increasingly take care not to sponsor the wrong ‘radical’ sort of creative or cultural events, or advertise in media that are critical of the government.
However, they should exercise caution when kowtowing. Excessive blatant Panda-groveling could rile younger and educated local employees and consumers – the same people being further alienated by Beijing’s ongoing heavy-handed clampdown. Human rights is a no-no, but firms wanting some hip and edgy PR can push safer trendy causes like the environment or LGBT rights.
This is just the beginning of Hong Kong’s long slide from pluralism and vibrant civil society to capitalist-absorbing Leninist order. But – assuming the lights stay on – companies will find ways to bend with the wind. As we see from the face on the Shanghai Disney executive forced to sit in on a CCP Committee meeting, it feels strange at first, but you get used to it.