Naver, South Korea’s largest internet portal, has confirmed that it moved its overseas data backup centre from Hong Kong to Singapore amid fears that Chinese authorities could use the city’s far-reaching national security law to access users’ information. In a Korean-language statement on Tuesday, Naver – which offers search-engine services and is often referred to as the Google of South Korea – did not mention the new legislation. “All data in the data backup centre in Hong Kong has securely been moved to Singapore,” it said. “Data in Hong Kong was deleted earlier this month and servers there were reformatted.” Speaking to This Week in Asia , a Naver public relations official said the move was related to the implementation of the new legislation – which covers offences committed anywhere in the world – but “not entirely” due to it. Home and away: after national security law, Hongkongers contemplate a second exodus “The relocation is also related to other technical reasons,” said the official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter, without providing further information. Under Article 38 of the new law, which came into force on June 30, the central government has the authority to prosecute non-residents for acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion related to Hong Kong, even when committed in another country. Lawmaker Kim Young-bae of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party on Monday told parliament Naver had saved South Korean users’ sensitive personal information on its servers in Hong Kong, raising concerns such information could be leaked abroad. Naver, in its statement, also said there had been no leaks from the Hong Kong data centre. “There is no possibility of a third party looking into personal data under any circumstances as they are strictly coded beyond what is required under domestic laws and regulations,” the company said, adding that user information was saved at different data centres. Besides its search engine, Naver also provides the Line messaging app – which is popular in Japan, and has more than 200 million users around the world – as well as other social media platforms that have millions of users. It is the first South Korean company known to have made changes to its Hong Kong operations, and its move comes as internet service providers and tech companies review their presence in the city as they believe they are likely to be most affected by the law. Amid national security law fears, Hong Kong’s Free Conversations have only just begun This is because police will no longer need court orders before requiring internet users or “relevant service providers” – believed to cover social-media platforms and firms – to help with investigations, or to delete or restrict access to content deemed to endanger national security. Earlier this month, social media platforms Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram and LinkedIn announced they had suspended processing law enforcement requests for user data, while popular short video app TikTok – owned by Beijing-based Bytedance – has pulled out of Hong Kong’s Apple and Google app stores. Lee Jae-soo, international research team leader of the Federation of Korean Industries, the lobbying arm of South Korea’s large business conglomerates, said firms from the country had concerns about their future in Hong Kong. About 140 of them, mostly trading and financial services firms, had operations in the city, he said. “We’ve been conducting a survey of Korean firms who have a presence in Hong Kong … In general, they appear to be as concerned as other foreign companies over Hong Kong’s future,” he said. “But they are largely taking a wait-and-see attitude as the relocation of business operations is not so easy as moving electronic data around as Naver has done.” In 2018, South Korea and Hong Kong were each other’s sixth and fifth-largest trading partners, respectively. Their bilateral trade volume in goods stood at HK$336.1 billion (US$43.4 billion) that year, up 8.9 per cent from 2017, according to official statistics from Hong Kong. Lee Seong-hyeon, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute think tank in Seoul, said South Korea had been under growing pressure to choose between its largest trade partner China and its traditional ally the United States. “South Korea is caught up in the growing disputes between the US and China, not only over the Hong Kong issue but other issues such as Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organisation and the Uygur human rights issue,” he said. “We can’t deny Seoul is free from pressure from Washington [to take sides with the US] in those issues.” Western businesses, including banks, technology firms and major news organisations, have reportedly weighed up their presence in Hong Kong as Beijing has moved to tighten its grip on the former British colony. A recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that about half of US businesspeople who responded said they planned to leave the city. The New York Times last week said it would relocate its Hong Kong-based digital news operation to Seoul because of the national security law.