Hong Kong authorities sought to distance the newspaper’s closure from what it called “normal journalistic work” and claimed the rebel and pro-democracy publication threatened national security.
Beijing responded on Friday that Biden’s comments were “baseless” and urged the United States not to interfere in China’s “internal affairs”.
The decision was “love at first sight and a reminder of the ambiguity of national security law,” said Tara Joseph, president of the US Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. The law prohibits any activity that Beijing considers to constitute sedition, secession and subversion, and allows Chinese state security to operate in the territory.
âIt’s not just the shutdown of Apple Daily,â she told CNN Business. “This is the new normal and the change that Hong Kong is going through from its era as a post-British colony to one where it is increasingly an integral part of China.”
“Do not try to accuse the Hong Kong authorities of using the national security law as a tool to suppress the media or to stifle free speech,” Lam said at a press conference Tuesday.
A sensitive period
Hong Kong has been a critical hub for foreign companies looking to engage with China for decades. While Beijing largely regulates how foreign companies do business on the mainland, Hong Kong offered them the opportunity to operate without heavy restrictions on investment and other operations.
“If you have sensitive data, and if you don’t want Hong Kong police to be on your doorstep sooner or later, take your sensitive data out of Hong Kong,” said Stefan Schmierer, managing partner of Ravenscroft & Schmierer. , a Hong Kong-based law firm that advises international companies.
Facebook, Twitter and Google confirmed on Friday that there had been no change in their position.
Self-censorship has also become more apparent. Last year, the German Chamber of Commerce wanted to hold a seminar in Hong Kong on national security law, but could not find a law firm willing to attend, according to Schmierer. The room did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia excluding Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets, said he has also noticed a change among his fellow analysts and economists, adding that many have been “quieter than in the past.”
âThere may have been some self-censorship,â he said.
Security for some, discomfort for others
Schmierer said he didn’t expect the growing crackdown to affect everyone, adding that “it’s not like Beijing is going to kill Hong Kong business.”
âIf you buy machines in China and sell them in the United States, what’s the problem with [the] national security law? âhe added.
Frederik Gollob, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, echoed this sentiment.
While “in some sectors it has become more political … I don’t think you can say that for all industries and all sectors,” he said.
Yet the general malaise was not limited to media and technology. In recent months, a feeling of apprehension descended on the city, various institutions finding themselves in the spotlight.
Police alleged that Hui embezzled funds raised through a crowdfunding campaign, claiming he violated national security law by colluding with foreign powers to undermine national security.
HSBC said at the time that it must “obey the laws of the jurisdiction in which we operate”.
The bank continued to experience tensions in Hong Kong, its largest market. This week, for example, the bank was forced to apologize to customers in the city after confusion over a reported change to its terms of service.
HSBC then clarified that there was “no plan to change services.”
âHSBC Hong Kong customers can continue to access banking services through online banking and mobile banking outside of [the city]”he said in a statement.” We apologize for the inconvenience caused.
The perfect storm ‘
In some ways, “we’ve had a perfect storm over the last few years,” said Joseph, the president of AmCham.
The government has also faced growing criticism of the city’s largely closed borders and strict quarantine rules, which have made international travel nearly impossible for many people.
This added to fears of a “brain drain,” according to Gollob.
“I am worried about businesses and people who are leaving in greater numbers, and probably not coming back, due to the inability to move around freely,” he said.
Gollob said he was more concerned with reopening the city than political tensions.
âIn certain sectors of the business community, [the mood] is certainly close to despair, âhe said.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to restore Hong Kong’s image to where we think it should be, and it is, I think, at the moment, quite a difficult job to do.”
– Eric Cheung, Jadyn Sham, Nikita Koirala, Jenni Marsh and the Beijing office of CNN contributed to this report.