An attack on SAR's living history

Editorial | Mary Ma 3 Jan 2020

After Maxim's Group, banking giant HSBC was caught in the cross-hairs as the civil unrest that has rocked Hong Kong since June erupts again following a short reprieve over the past month.

In December, police accused protest-supporting group Spark Alliance of money laundering and arrested its members. The group's account at HSBC was closed and its money frozen.

On Wednesday as thousands of anti-government demonstrators streamed from Victoria Park to the Central business district in the New Year Day march, HSBC's iconic bronze lion statues - Stephen and Stitt, standing guard outside its regional headquarters - were sprayed with black and red paint. One was set ablaze.

Meanwhile, a HSBC branch was vandalized.

Apparently, the vandalism was in revenge - if not to provoke police into an act of so-called oppression.

That vengeful act provided a justification for police to cut short a mass demonstration that had been otherwise peaceful and orderly.

Like the countless attacks on Maxim's outlets over the past six months, the vandalism of the Stephen and Stitt lions was brainless.

Patriotic businesswoman Annie Wu Suk-ching's condemnation of the protesters during a United Nations appearance had absolutely nothing to do with Maxim's. Even though the Hong Kong-based catering kingdom was co-founded by Wu's father, the group has ceased to be a family-controlled business after more than 60 years of development.

Nonetheless, Maxim's innocence was ignored amid the rage.

By the same token, HSBC has little to do with the "yellow" and "blue". When police astonished the city with the arrest of a few members of the Spark Alliance - which had been collecting public donations to help arrested protesters pay legal fees and cover living expenses - the bank clarified that the account the alliance held at HSBC was closed a month ago at the customer's "direct instruction."

As in the case of Maxim's, HSBC innocently waded to the center of the storm.

As the British banking group denounced the vandalism of its lion statues beloved by many in Hong Kong, the damage was not limited to the physical statues but also to their associated Hong Kong spirit.

"This is terrible! Worse than even a foreign invasion," a woman was quoted as saying.

As HSBC condemned the vandalism, events over the past six months have shaped a new dilemma for firms doing business here and in the mainland.

Cathay Pacific Airways was heavily censured by Beijing after its staff actively took part in anti-government marches.

So-called "yellow" and "blue" economic circles have also emerged, with their supporters boycotting businesses of the opposite color.

The incidents are creating an impact on the business ecology here. It is regrettable that the time-honored sense of basing business decisions on commercial considerations is long gone. Company management now has to consider how their decisions would be received by competing audience groups.

This was never an issue when our society wasn't as polarized. But no longer the case. Every decision made must take into account how Beijing, mainlanders, Hongkongers and foreign politicians react.

It's small wonder the SAR's business environment is on the decline.

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