For decades, the city of Hong Kong has been considered one of the freest and most prosperous cities in the world.
Due to its strong commitment to the rule of law, judicial independence, free trade and private property rights, Hong Kong stood as a beacon in the region, attracting countless companies and trillions of dollars worth of investments. These principles, however, are under significant threat.
Most of the interest and commentary about the protests in Hong Kong has focused on concern about human rights issues. While the extradition bill presented real concerns in that regard, most discussions neglect to mention the key role that property rights have played in the motivation for the protests. The people of Hong Kong who are protesting are fighting for their freedom not just to speak or to assemble but to maintain their businesses and to freely interact with other companies around the world. While Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has followed through now on her promise to formally withdraw the bill, protesters aren't reassured, and, in the absence of action on other key matters of demand from protest groups, unrest in the streets has not yet subsided.
Australia supports the right of people to protest peacefully and to exercise their freedom of speech no matter where they are. As the foreign minister has said, all sides should be urged to show restraint and to avoid violence. The Australian government has consistently called for a political solution to the current tensions that fully respects Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and upholds the rights and freedoms enshrined in Hong Kong's basic law under the 'one country, two systems' framework. The Hong Kong protesters are fighting for values that we too hold dear—those of individual freedom, free markets and the rule of law. These values made Hong Kong free and prosperous and they are key to its continued growth and prosperity.
Many people have assumed the extradition bill was targeted at political dissidents alone. Perhaps that was part of it, but the greater risk comes from the ability to target companies and extradite their executives, for this power can be used to subjugate them to the communist regime. When foreign company executives have been jailed just to prove a political point, when CCP officials give edicts directly to CEOs of major companies, a private company can really be regarded as private only on paper. I'll give you an example. Beijing has pressured two successive chairmen of Cathay Pacific into resigning since August for failing to be sufficiently subservient to its demands. It has threatened boycotts of multiple multinational fashion brands for similar reasons. It has demanded major companies require their staff not to participate in protests as a condition of their continued employment.
China receives 70 per cent of its total foreign direct investment through Hong Kong. The extradition bill was a reach into that capital to demand the subservience of those who control it. A US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report last November noted the importance of the link between Hong Kong's strong rule of law and its economic openness. During the commission's trip to Hong Kong last May, observers noted the risk for Hong Kong's continued importance as Asia's financial centre if companies and individuals lose confidence in Hong Kong's rule of law and other freedoms as they are eroded by Beijing. Yet there are increasing reports of judges in Hong Kong facing threats to their judicial independence. For the sake of millions of Hongkongers' basic freedoms, the success of the businesses undergirding that island's prosperity and the countless international businesses that benefit from a free Hong Kong, we should provide as much encouragement as we possibly can for a genuine continuation of the 'one country, two systems' approach.