30 July 2020

BDA’s Euan Rellie talks to SCMP on businesses’ reactions to Hong Kong national security law

South China Morning Post
July 29, 2020

National security law: US businesses warily eye Beijing in assessing their Hong Kong operations

  • Tech and media firms are concerned, but most companies in other fields are not yet disturbed, consultants say
  • One investment banker summed up clients’ perspective as ‘I do business, not politics’

Nearly a month after China passed the national security law for Hong Kong and made swift arrests of peaceful demonstrators, foreign companies in the city are holding out hope that the law is more a tool to stop resistance against Beijing’s control than an indicator of darker days ahead for business.

After all, China has shown restraint so far. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Zoom and LinkedIn, among other web-based businesses, declared they would stop processing data requests from the Hong Kong government, fearing that the new law would encourage the forwarding of information to China. Yet Beijing has not compelled the firms to comply with such requests – at least not publicly.

Some executives have taken that as an encouraging sign, consultants say, because Beijing has not jumped at the first opportunity to demonstrate what this legislation might mean to foreign businesses.

“We have heard surprisingly few concerns from a business perspective,” said Euan Rellie, president of BDA Partners, a New York based investment bank that advises corporations with a focus on Asia.

“Many businesspeople have compartmentalised their reaction to the new law: ‘I do business, not politics’.”

Some even said that the security law “provides clarity, as businesses were caught in the middle when dealing with staff who took part in protests”, Rellie said.

As companies in Hong Kong continue to contend with political activism in their ranks, he added, some executives expressed relief that “perhaps now businesses won’t have to deal with the pressure from the controversial politics of their own staff”.

Such a perspective, said Rellie, “echoes the way business discusses China generally”.

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