Protest must not mar Hong Kong's reputation as financial centre

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 8:44am

Hong Kong has a deserved reputation as one of the world's top financial centres. That status is due to be reinforced when the city hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) ministerial conference for the first time next September. China, which assumes the chairmanship next year, decided to stage the meeting here and the decision is to be welcomed. It underlines our importance as an international financial centre to the country and the world, something that is too often taken for granted.

That Beijing has entrusted this important event to us at a politically sensitive time is intriguing. The September meeting is likely to be preceded by Occupy Central, a campaign that may see the business district blockaded by 10,000 people in what they say is a last resort in a push for genuine democracy. Whether the so-called civil disobedience will affect the conference, expected to be held in the neighbouring district of Wan Chai, is understandably a matter of concern.

The government reportedly indicated it wanted to host the meeting long before the campaign was mooted early this year. But Beijing must have fully assessed the situation before giving the green light. This will be our biggest event since the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in 2005. The decision is a vote of confidence in our ability to stage world events, despite threats arising from large-scale protests.

The city's status as an international financial centre will be enhanced when finance ministers and top bankers around the world gather here. This is in line with Beijing's emphasis on Hong Kong being an economic rather than a political city. It is also seen by some as an attempt to pressure pro-democracy activists to abandon the plan. But the organisers are apparently not prepared to give in. The spotlight on Hong Kong next year may indeed prompt more overseas attention and give protesters more leverage.

The right to protest should be exercised within the law. Fears are growing that law-breaking activities advocated by Occupy Central will paralyse the business district and create chaos. Our international image will also be damaged if the ministerial conference is disrupted. Our status as a leading financial centre owes much to the hard work of the professionals who work here, institutional safeguards, as well as support from the central government and foreign countries. Undermining that status is not in Hong Kong's interest.