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Tuesday, Dec 01, 2020

Hong Kong Economist Says His Views on China Cost Him His Job

Hong Kong Economist Says His Views on China Cost Him His Job

A local Hong Kong economist said he was asked to leave his job at a mainland Chinese-owned bank, in the latest example of political tensions erupting in the financial hub after months of protests.
Law Ka Chung left his role as chief economist at Bank of Communications (Hong Kong) in October, with no official announcement. The analyst said he suspects his views are the reason he was asked to leave after more than 14 years.

The former chief economist in an article in August said protests in Hong Kong would deepen the city’s slowdown but argued their impact was limited, contradicting the dire outlook in China’s mainland media. He said he was asked to leave the bank shortly after he shared with colleagues a link to an outside article critical of China’s firewalls and closed system. He was also asked to refrain from commenting on the Chinese economy, he said.

“China just needs people to stay low profile and be quiet,” Law said in an interview on Tuesday. “They just want to silence all voices, be it researchers, students or media.”

The departure risks stoking speculation that Hong Kong could lose its status as a relatively independent financial center outside of China. Pro-democracy protests have rocked Hong Kong for almost six months, stirring tension across workplaces in the former British colony, with bankers often caught in the midst. Chinese-owned banks and shops have been targeted by angry protesters. Local citizens and those who emigrated from mainland China often clash online and in real life.

Law said he has felt pressure since as early as 2014, when the so-called Umbrella Movement started. Friends and other analysts are now indicating that pressure to keep comments guarded is spreading to local and foreign banks as well, he said.

Law said the bank outlined his compensation stretching into next year just two months before he was asked to resign. He left behind him a team of mainly local Hong Kongers.

“I have little contact with them after I left,” he said. “I wish them good luck.”

The turmoil has plunged Hong Kong into a recession, in part as a dearth of mainland visitors has choked off retail sales. Expat bankers and even those born in the city have explored options of leaving the city while residents from mainland China have grown more fearful.

With employees entangled or caught up in the turmoil, banks including HSBC Holdings Plc have called for a peaceful resolution. One Mandarin Chinese speaking JPMorgan Chase & Co. employee was punched in the face and a Citigroup Inc. banker was briefly detained after a scuffle with police. A BNP Paribas SA executive left his job to focus on his activism for Hong Kong.

But even before protests broke out citywide, the fear of offending China have made some of the Wall Street banks bow. UBS Group AG put its top economist Paul Donovan on temporary leave earlier this year after a reference in his research to “Chinese pigs” caused an avalanche of criticism in China.
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