Hong Kong in turmoil
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - August 26, 2019 - 12:00am

Hong Kong, at any given time other than today, is where billion dollar deals are made – a great global financial city where landmark acquisitions are conceived, empires are built, and where the rich can become richer. 

Indeed, you can almost smell the scent of money in Hong Kong, the former British colony. It’s the extended home of the crazy rich, the conference room of giant multinationals from Europe when they are in Asia, and the School of Hard Knocks for investment bankers all over the world.

In fact, some of the Philippines’ investment bankers and genius dealmakers learned the tricks of the trade – dirty or otherwise – in Hong Kong’s posh skyscrapers and fancy five star hotel suites. 

It’s also where some of the country’s richest fly to when they are craving for some gastronomic pleasures in any of the city’s 61 Michelin-starred restaurants. That, or if they simply want a bespoke suit or just another multimillion-peso timepiece from the rows of Rolex retailers in Causeway. 

Filipino billionaires have businesses in Hong Kong –Manuel V. Pangilinan’s First Pacific is based there, Lucio Tan has his skyscrapers all over the city, and Ramon Ang’s San Miguel Brewery has a brewery in that autonomous region of China.

But Hong Kong is no longer that global financial center where dapper bankers and the world’s richest meet to make more money. At least for now. Businesses have slowed down, I’ve been told, and billion dollar deals are on hold. A taipan who is planning a Hong Kong listing for his sprawling empire is waiting it out.  Some stores in Causeway have closed shop.

And perhaps not a day, nay, an hour where everyone – protesters and businesses included -- wish that the mayhem will just end and Hong Kong will wake up to a fresh, new start. 

A growing concern

The world is watching and many are concerned. For three months now, Hong Kong has been sleepless and millions of protesters have taken over the streets to protest a bill that allows extradition of Hong Kong residents to China. Police have responded with tear gas and batons.

What happens next?

Observers fear that there could be a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen Square. I fear that, too, but I hope it won’t happen. Such brutal use of force, if it happens, could forever change Hong Kong’s image as the world’s financial center. Having a military presence there would scare off investors and shatter its economy. An economic slowdown in Hong Kong could then trigger a global recession.  

Alarmist? No. I argue that it can happen because the effect of a slowdown in Hong Kong’s economy will not be limited to the region, but could implode at a larger, global scale. Hong Kong after all provides many companies access to the world and is a trading partner of many countries, including the Philippines.

The Philippines, for instance, has exported to Hong Kong $9.55 billion worth of goods in 2018, according to the United Nations data on international trade.

Fight for freedom

So yes, Hong Kong’s turmoil could hit us, if it hasn’t already. Our local airlines are already bearing the brunt because flights to Hong Kong have been disrupted.

But let’s look at the turmoil in Hong Kong through a different lens and not just by how much the chaos has rattled markets or how much we’ve lost. 

Sure, it is very much a great cause for concern. It’s just right to worry. But while we worry over this, let us look at the bigger picture of how this is really more than just another economic disruption.

Instead, let us appreciate the narrative of the Hong Kong protests as a fight for freedom not just of its citizens, but also for that of every freedom-loving citizen of the world. 

Let us remember the lessons of history from those who have sacrificed in the name of freedom: It can be won. There’s no lack of success stories. There’s the Spartacus Revolt, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the Tunisian Revolution of 2010 -- I can go on and on.

So let’s not be afraid to stand with Hong Kong’s protesters. At this time, when civil liberties in many parts of the world, including ours, are facing threats, the least we can all do is to support those who fight to preserve freedom. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid, impossible as that might be. After all, at the end of the day, the victory of the protestors will be everyone’s victory as well, businessmen included. 

The despots and the tyrants are watching and it is important for them to see that the greater majority of the world will not allow freedom to be taken away.

So yeah, everything is chaotic now, but it’s a price to pay to be free. It is right to wish for this turmoil to end, but let us long for a resolution that will make tomorrow a better one.

As one protestor at the Hong Kong International Airport said in her placard: “We are sorry for the inconvenience, we are fighting for the future.”

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com 

HONG KONG IN TURMOIL
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