Multinational companies and financial institutions in Hong Kong are drawing up emergency plans in the event of a partial shutdown of the financial hub’s business district this summer due to a planned pro-democracy protest.
Activists have threatened to lock down the Central area of Hong Kong, home to some of Asia’s biggest companies and banks, as part of a campaign for the right to choose candidates for a poll in 2017 to elect the territory’s next leader.
Democracy protests over the past year have stoked friction and unnerved Beijing leaders fearful of an opposition democrat taking the territory’s highest office.
Concerns about growing discontent and the threatened closure of the city’s business district by the so-called Occupy Central activists have prompted companies and financial authorities to prepare for the worst.
Protest organizers hope to draw tens of thousands to their movement, but no date or specifics have yet been announced on their action. The protest could start as early as July 1.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) said it would carry out a “business continuity planning drill” shortly with member banks to “protect the critical areas of their business and to cope with disruptions.”
HKMA spokeswoman Rhonda Lam (林耘) declined to confirm how many banks were involved or whether the drill was directly related to Occupy Central, but said it would address the “inaccessibility of banks’ headquarters or offices due to any possible events that may happen in Central.”
On Tuesday, China published a report warning Hong Kong that there were limits to its freedom and it should adhere strictly to the law, in what was seen as a veiled threat.
However, the Occupy Central organizers have stressed that their civil disobedience movement is “non-violent” and motivated largely by China’s refusal to allow a truly fair election in 2017 that would include opposition democrats.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) has warned such a protest would be illegal and will not be tolerated.
Peter Woo (吳光正), head of property and retail conglomerate Wharf Holdings, as well as property mogul Lee Shau-kee (李兆基) have cautioned that any paralysis of the main business hub would damage the territory’s reputation.
The Hong Kong Bankers Club, whose members include most of the territory’s major banks, said it would have a contingency plan in place before July 1.
The private club, along with other tenants including Italian luxury fashion group Prada and auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers, have been advised by landlord Hongkong Land Holdings Ltd to be prepared for trouble.
New World Development Co, another major landlord in Central, also has in place “contingency measures to ensure that its critical operation is maintained and that disruption to its normal business is kept at a minimum.”
Across the street at the headquarters of HSBC, the bank has begun to “stress-test” its systems capability for staff to work from home.
It sent an e-mail to staff urging as many people as possible to work away from the office during a weekend to prepare for the eventuality that the headquarters might be blockaded, a banker said on condition of anonymity.
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