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Hong Kong protests augur murky outlook for financial hub

SeattlePI.com Friday, 12 July 2019 ()
HONG KONG (AP) — It's still the world's "freest" economy, one of the biggest global financial centers and a scenic haven for tycoons and tourists, but the waves of protests rocking Hong Kong are exposing strains unlikely to dissipate as communist-ruled Beijing's influence grows.

The end of the former British colony's 50-year grace period after China took control in 1997 is years away, and the protests have made only a minor dent in day-to-day business. But they point to issues clouding the outlook, as investors and residents fret that the city will lose its Western-style freedoms.

Many in Hong Kong believe their future hinges on keeping the civil liberties, independent courts and other advantages Beijing promised to preserve for at least a half-century after Britain ceded control under an arrangement dubbed "one-country, two systems."

"We're still talking about 28 years," says Grant Strudwick, vice president for Asia for Pinkerton, which provides risk management services. "The spotlight is on China as to how they treat this transition period."

Hong Kong's economy once was about a fifth the size of China's. Now, it's a tiny fraction of that, thanks in no small part to an industrial boom driven by Hong Kong tycoons who set up factories across the border after China opened to outside investment in the 1970s.

The territory's success as a center for trade and investment is grounded in its independent legal system and the free flow of information, said Joseph Cheng, a political analyst and leader of a pro-democracy coalition, the Alliance for True Democracy.

"These are two important assets enabling Hong Kong to have a distinct edge over major coastal cities in China, like Shanghai, like Shenzhen," he said.

He believes that, without further moves toward democracy, Hong...
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