Hong Kong localism and independence

Hong Kong business chambers play down concerns over Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet’s visa refusal

American Chamber of Commerce and General Chamber of Commerce say their primary concerns lie in ensuring a level playing field for firms in the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 8:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 11:21pm

Two major business chambers on Sunday played down concerns over the Hong Kong government’s decision not to renew a working visa for veteran journalist Victor Mallet after he chaired a Foreign Correspondents’ Club talk by an independence activist.

Tara Joseph of the American Chamber of Commerce said businesses were more concerned with ensuring a level playing field for firms in the city.

She conceded it was one of the chamber’s missions to support the free flow of information in Hong Kong, but would not comment directly on the Mallet case.

“I think it needs to be said that people are watching over Hong Kong,” Joseph said. “It’s important that companies are able to operate freely and express themselves.”

Joseph was previously a journalist with Reuters for 15 years and was twice elected president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

US companies mainly came to Hong Kong for its smooth operating environment, low tax rates and efficiency, she added.

Aron Harilela of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce said visas were not the first concern for firms.

“If an American company is looking to do business with China, wanting to set up shops in Hong Kong, such non-extension would be an issue. But it wouldn’t be a main business consideration,” said the chairman of the Harilela hotel group.

Britain demands explanation from Hong Kong over rejection of visa renewal for Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet

“Our main business consideration is a level playing field, the rule of law and stability.”

The pair’s remarks came after the European Union on Sunday echoed earlier comments from Britain and the United States by urging Hong Kong officials to explain the decision to deny Mallet a visa.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office demanded an “urgent explanation”, while a spokesman for the US consulate in Hong Kong described the matter as “deeply troubling” as it “mirrors problems faced by international journalists on the mainland”.

An EU spokesperson, referring to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and pledges to protect human rights, said: “The incident raises legitimate questions about freedom of the press and expression in Hong Kong, which are guaranteed by the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Hong Kong’s Immigration Department has repeatedly said it does not comment on individual cases, and neither would it “disclose the specific refusal reason to an applicant”.

Backlash as Hong Kong denies visa renewal for Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet

But the decision has been seen as closely linked to Mallet chairing a lunch talk by Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin in August as the city’s government mulled an unprecedented ban on the party, which it officially implemented last month.

Mallet is the club’s first vice-president but was acting president at the time of Chan’s talk. He applied to renew his visa last month, before the ban was instated.

The Financial Times journalist declined to further comment when contacted by the Post on Sunday. When asked about his chances of returning to Hong Kong, he replied with an emoji depicting a zipped mouth.

Meanwhile, state-run Chinese tabloid newspaper Global Times said in an editorial that Mallet should “reflect on what he has done in Hong Kong, which is so different from other foreign journalists”.

“Some extremists and extraterritorial forces are attempting to damage the city’s political, legal and media ecosystem,” it said.

“One less Mallet will not bring down Hong Kong’s freedom of speech – quite the other way around, because what he did not only harmed national security but also harmed how freedom of speech is supposed to operate.”

Allan Zeman, chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group, which owns entertainment and retail properties in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chengdu, said Mallet would have to “suffer the consequences” after going ahead with the talk despite warnings from both Beijing and the Hong Kong government.

“Beijing has already made it clear that advocacy of independence will not be tolerated, which I agree with,” he said.

“Any government has the right not to extend a visa without explaining why. It’s usual and not just the case in Hong Kong.”

Zeman, who has been doing business in the city for 48 years, said it would be “fake news” to label the incident the “end” of Hong Kong’s freedoms.