Switching Apec meeting to Beijing is a blow for Hong Kong
Our city's can-do reputation leaves it with little to prove about adaptability and flexibility. So we might be puzzled, but not too concerned, that after signing up to host an international financial conference, a little thing like a change of date is cited as a reason to change the venue. However, the case of a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers ahead of an Apec leaders' summit being hosted by Beijing later this year is an exception. The switch to Beijing for the finance ministers' meeting has also led to wide speculation about the reason, which has inevitably linked it to the Occupy Central pro-democracy political rally planned for Hong Kong's financial district. Beijing has made plain its displeasure with this plan.
To be sure, Hong Kong's experience in organising a number of big international events makes it seem a stretch to say that the city could not handle a change of date seven months in advance. The finance ministers' meeting was put back a couple of weeks after the leaders' summit was pushed back from October to November at the request of US President Barack Obama. Apec organisers said this would cause logistical problems such as with hotel bookings, a claim disputed by a hotel industry leader. A common reaction is that the switch may undermine Hong Kong's image as a financial centre. We trust that official denials of any direct link to the Occupy Central movement will ease such concerns. Otherwise there is a risk of a public perception that political factors cannot be ruled out, and that the decision conveys an underlying message that if Beijing can give something it can also take it away.
None of this serves the best interests of Hong Kong, a natural venue for a meeting of finance officials and central bankers. It should also be a reminder to protest organisers to strike a balance between exercising their rights and the city's overall interests. Ironically, some of the Apec guests would have been from countries that value free speech, including protest and dissent, as positive for confidence in a financial centre.