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Asia-Pacific / / Hong Kong

Hong Kong's protesters aren't scaring off business

Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters have occupied the city’s Central district for over a month now, and they don’t look likely to stop anytime soon: according to Reuters, nine out of 10 say they’d be happy to carry on for a full year.

The accompanying disruption has included blocked roads in the city’s major business district and a growing air of unease between police and protesters – something not helped by the lashings of tear gas being served up. This, one might imagine, would be take a toll on Hong Kong’s financial sector. Even business guru Jackie Chan (yes, that Jackie Chan) has said he’s “really worried” about the protests’ impact on the city-state’s economy.

Somehow, though, the protests haven’t, so far at least, made the city less attractive as a business destination. This piece from Quartz notes that, according to the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” ranking, Hong Kong still comes third:

The ranking puts Hong Kong just behind Singapore and New Zealand, and contradicts the dire warnings by Chinese and Hong Kong officials that the protests are putting the economy at risk.

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The sector may well have its hard-working staff to thank: according to Bloomberg News, the city’s financial workers have been working from home and Skyping clients to avoid the protest-blocked business districts.

A few days ago, the credit ratings firm Fitch released a tetchy statement containing a similarly optimistic outlook:

It is important not to over-emphasise the recent protests as a factor in Hong Kong’s credit profile… The protests have not had a significant impact on the key positive factors underpinning Hong Kong’s ratings.

According to the ratings firm, these factors include fiscal reserves amounting to 35 per cent of the city-state’s GDP, a flexible economy and consistent policy frameworks. The statement did warn, however, that if a “deepening of social divisions” lead to recurring protests and demonstrations, investor confidence could weaken.

Elsewhere in the city, it’s similarly business as usual. As though to cement the image of the protests as the “most peaceful ever”, not a single flight in or out of Hong Kong’s airport has been cancelled. In fact, visitor numbers are actually up on last year – the protests are attracting tourists eager to play their part in the revolution/snap selfies.

“Business as usual”, however, isn’t what it once was. As recently as 2006, Hong Kong still had the biggest economy in China. With a decade, however, it’ll be lucky to scrape the top 10. This relative decline will remain a challenge, long after the protests are over.

Metropolitan GDP of major Chinese cities compared. Source: CityMetric Intelligence.
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