Americans not sounding the retreat

Editorial | Mary Ma 21 Jul 2021

Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, has gone on a charm offensive to tell Hongkongers and the rest of the world that Americans are not sounding the retreat from the city despite President Joe Biden's dire warning to US firms about the risks of doing business in the city.

That she chose to speak ahead of the US consul general to both Western and Chinese media - and not toe the Biden line - shows how keen American business is to play down fears that they may heed the US president's advice and pull out.

It was interesting that she also highlighted flow of information as one of the pillars of business freedoms in Hong Kong, citing how one can go onto Google, Facebook and any other platform versus what can be done in the mainland.

While this may be true, I believe that worries about internet access will be the least of AmCham's woes as it grapples with a much bigger dilemma.

For Biden's warning has put American businesses in a spot.

They have invested time and money in Hong Kong - and it's clear they don't want to pack their bags and leave.

But how do they go about doing business while America continues to penalize Hong Kong in its ideological war with China?

Joseph says US businesses believe Hong Kong is still a good place to be based, and that the memo came as no surprise to US firms operating here as most of them have been living with the new normal for quite a while and are "quite aware of what's happening on the ground."

And though the national security law may have raised concerns, she admits it has not affected commercial operations of US firms.

AmCham, which has just bought a new office in Central, has also put out a statement saying it has been operating and thriving in Hong Kong for over 50 years and that it is important - perhaps more than ever - for the chamber to represent American businesses and to "constructively work with our public and private stakeholders to build a Hong Kong for the future."

Also flying the flag for Hong Kong is Kurt Tong, a former consul general representing the US, and chief of mission in Hong Kong and Macao, who says the SAR is still a good place for businesses to be despite the risks, and the best platform to do business with China.

US consul general in Hong Kong and Macau Hanscom Smith, who has stayed stoically silent amid the furore, held a webinar with AmCham members yesterday evening.

Not a single word was released about what transpired, and while I would have loved to be a fly on the virtual wall, my guess is that he must have calmed a lot of frayed nerves and told them they should go about their business as usual.

Meanwhile, the massive nine-page advisory about "Risks and Considerations for Businesses Operating in Hong Kong" on the US consulate's website culminates in a warning to US firms that if they fail to toe the line and comply with US sanctions they could be slapped with civil and criminal penalties under US law.

So while Americans may now have to do a fine balancing act on how to do business in Hong Kong without angering Uncle Sam, it's clear that they want, and choose, to remain in Hong Kong for now.

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