Hong Kong. Pic: AP.

Suspicion falls on China sympathizers, reports Asia Sentinel

More than six months ago – on July 12 – virtually without debate, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passed the first major revision of the Companies Ordinance in nearly 20 years. Today the ordinance, published in the Government Gazette in August, has become a lightning rod for public concern that has broadened into apprehension over possible government submission to China’s will.

Undergoing comment before final implementation by the Securities and Futures Commission, the revisions to the ordinance are regarded as another ominous sign that Hong Kong is increasingly beholden to Beijing, and that the new provisions are there to protect billionaire Chinese who are hiding their money in the territory, as well as to cover the machinations of some of Hong Kong’s biggest oligarchs.

The unease over the mainland’s growing sway has sparked considerable public outrage over a wide range of issues beyond concealing company records and contributing to the low public approval ratings of CY Leung, who took office last July as the territory’s chief executive.

David Webb, the longtime corporate information activist, articulated those concerns in a conversation with Reuters, saying that “the government is getting more heavy-handed, intervening in various aspects of business and in the process they are very bad for business, they are undermining the city’s reputation as a free market. Also what built Hong Kong is that we are a free market on China’s doorstep. And unfortunately we are heading for convergence.”

Nobody at the time of passage, including the entire legislative council opposition or the city’s 21 local newspapers and three international ones, seems to have noticed.

Subsequent disclosure of some of the provisions has embarrassed both the press and the Legco. Also passing unnoticed was a proposal by the Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen in a Jan. 14 speech at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2013 that the Law Reform Commission “has in its meeting last month decided to establish two sub-committees to consider the topics of archives law and access to information.”

“The government only revealed the idea of the change in a press conference in the midst of other company information and the reporters covering the situation missed it,” said Mak Yin Ting, the head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. “The government has the obligation to inform the public what they are doing, not just hide it in the midst of a bundle of issues.”

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