(Repeats to additional subscribers)
By Yimou Lee and James Zhang
HONG KONG, June 13 Multinational companies and
financial institutions in Hong Kong are drawing up emergency
plans in the event of a partial shutdown of the financial hub's
business district this summer due to a planned pro-democracy
Activists have threatened to lock down the Central area of
Hong Kong, home to some of Asia's biggest companies and banks,
as part of a campaign for the right to choose candidates for a
poll in 2017 to elect Hong Kong's next leader.
Democracy protests over the past year have stoked friction
and unnerved Beijing leaders fearful of an opposition democrat
taking the city's highest office.
Concerns about growing discontent and the threatened closure
of city's business district by the so-called Occupy Central
activists have prompted companies and financial authorities to
prepare for the worst.
Protest organisers hope to draw tens of thousands to their
movement, but no date or specifics have yet been announced on
their action. The protest could start as early as July 1.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the de facto
central bank, said it would carry out a "business continuity
planning drill" shortly with member banks to "protect the
critical areas of their business and to cope with disruptions".
Rhonda Lam, a spokeswoman at the HKMA, declined to confirm
how many banks were involved or whether the drill was directly
related to Occupy Central, but said it would address the
"inaccessibility of banks' headquarters or offices due to any
possible events that may happen in Central".
BEIJING ISSUES WARNING
The thorny issue of political reforms has continued to dog
the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997
amid promises to grant the free-wheeling capitalist hub
broad-ranging autonomy, pitting a feisty opposition
pro-democracy movement against Beijing's conservative Communist
On Tuesday, China published a report warning Hong Kong that
there were limits to its freedom and it should adhere strictly
to the law, in what was seen as a veiled threat.
The Occupy Central organisers have stressed, however, that
their civil disobedience movement is "non-violent" and motivated
largely by China's refusal to allow a truly fair election in
2017 that would include opposition democrats.
Hong Kong's incumbent pro-Beijing leader Leung Chun-ying has
warned such a protest would be illegal and won't be tolerated.
Protesters have demanded full democracy in 2017, with a key
condition being the open nominations of candidates so that
anyone, including China critics, can run for office.
But Beijing has rejected that, citing the city's
mini-constitution that states all nominees must be endorsed by a
1,200-strong election committee, which is stacked with Beijing
The head of property-to-retail conglomerate Wharf Holdings
, Peter Woo, as well as Hong Kong's second wealthiest
person, property mogul Lee Shau-Kee of Henderson Land,
have cautioned that any paralysis of the main business hub would
damage the city's reputation.
The Hong Kong Bankers Club, whose members include most of
the city's major banks, said it would have a contingency plan in
place before July 1. The private club, along with other tenants
including Italian luxury fashion group Prada and
auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers, have been advised by landlord
Hongkong Land Holdings Ltd to be prepared for trouble.
New World Development Company Ltd, another major
landlord in Central, also has in place "contingency measures to
ensure that its critical operation is maintained and that
disruption to its normal business is kept at a minimum".
Across the street at the headquarters of HSBC
, the bank has begun to "stress-test" its systems
capability for staff to work from home.
It sent an email to staff urging as many people as possible
to work away from the office during a weekend to prepare for the
eventuality that the headquarters might be blockaded, said a
senior banker who declined to be named as he was not authorised
to speak to the media.
"It is possible that protests and marches will occur in
Central on 1 July 2014 and that, depending on the situation,
HSBC Main Building and its operations may be impacted in the
following days," according to an internal email seen by Reuters.
The potential impact on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Hong
Kong Exchanges and Clearing, on the harbourfront
fringe of Central, would be minimal even if the protests spread
to its doors, with 0.16 percent of turnover carried out on the
actual trading floor, a spokesperson for HKEx said.
(Additional reporting by Lawrence White,; Writing by James
Pomfret; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)