Hong Kong shops, workers in rare strike to ‘defend freedom’
Hong Kong retailer Alan Li shut up shop on Wednesday (Jun 12), joining about 100 businesses and numerous workers in a rare strike to protest against an extradition bill that many fear will undermine freedom and confidence in the commercial hub. “Even though we can’t do business for a day, for me there is nothing more important than defending our freedom of speech and freedom of thought,” said Li, 38, before closing his Alca&Co shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, a shopping district across the harbour from Hong Kong’s high-rise finance centre.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators, many of them young and clad in black, surrounded Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday, forcing it to postpone a second round of debate on the bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial. Clashes broke out when protesters tried to storm the legislature building. The demonstrators rallied just a stone’s throw from the heart of the financial centre, where glittering skyscrapers house the offices of some of the world’s biggest companies, including HSBC.
Standard Chartered, Bank of East Asia and HSBC suspended bank operations at some branches in the area. Some of the Big Four accounting firms had also agreed to flexible work arrangements for staff, media reported. As protests escalated, several shops at Hong Kong’s International Finance Center were forced to close for the day. Hong Kong Jockey Club, one of the city’s most famous brands, shut down three of its central betting branches, citing employee safety.
More than 100 shops had announced strikes in social media posts. Businesses included retail store Gethemall, transport start-up Call4Van, coffee shops, bookstores, electronics and clothes shops, eateries and florists. “Ah that pesky Hong Kong spirit is rearing its ugly head again. Refusing to back down in the face of adversity,” Bleak House Books said in a Facebook post announcing its strike.
The action by businesses and workers underlines the extent that the extradition bill has struck a chord in a city that has grown increasingly wary of what many see as undue meddling by Beijing. Lawyers, students, workers and businessmen have raised concerns about human rights and the erosion of one of Hong Kong’s most important competitive advantages – the autonomy of its legal system.