Companies in mainland China are scrutinized and sanctioned, as the regime enforces “stability control measures” to offset the effects of the pro-democracy movement.
by Lin Yijiang
While the Chinese government blames Hong Kong protestors for the economic downturn in the country, business owners from mainland China associated with Hong Kong claim that they lose business primarily because of Beijing’s strict “stability control measures.” Bitter Winter talked to some of them.
The political stance of business partners investigated
An employee in a small factory in a Chinese coastal province revealed that in October, some of the staff, including him, were investigated by the police about his company’s business with Hong Kong.
The police were particularly interested in the political attitudes of the company’s Hong Kong business partners, first demanding to know their names, ages, home addresses, as well as details of transactions with them. Officers pressured to know if the Hong Kong partners ever mentioned the protests and what was their standpoint on the situation in the special administrative region.
Police officers claimed that such investigations were carried out to prevent the companies doing business with Hong Kong from “colluding with separatists,” which they treated as “a serious problem.”
“When I asked why even small factories were investigated, the officers told me that CCP branches are usually set up in large enterprises, and the government closely monitors their every move through them,” the employee recalled his meeting with the police. “But small businesses were not supervised the same way, hence the new investigations.” He added that the police took away the company’s order records starting from June – the start of protests in Hong Kong.
He told Bitter Winter that through his interactions with the company’s Hong Kong partners, he understood that the pro-democracy movement was not what the Chinese government was declaring it to be through propaganda. He also felt that in his communications with the partners, they were cautious about discussing the protests. From some expressions and words, he could ascertain that they supported the movement, though they did not express their opinions openly, fearing that the Party’s retaliation would impact their business.
Their fears are not ungrounded: it is enough for business owners to be singled out by the regime, and devastating crackdowns against them are launched immediately.
Restaurant chain boycotted
In 2002, Alfred Cheung Kin-ting, Hong Kong-based actor, director, writer, and producer, opened a chain of restaurants called “Cousin Cafe.” He later licensed the trade name to independent businesses that opened franchises in mainland China.
At the end of August, Mr. Cheung was accused of supporting Hong Kong’s independence and labeled “separatist” because he took part in one of the marches against the changes to the extradition law in June and posted some comments on his social media. Mr. Cheung denied the accusations of him being the supporter of Hong Kong’s independence. Regardless, the “Cousin Cafe” franchise was targeted on the mainland: some media outlets and pundits online called on people to boycott the chain’s restaurants.
Afraid to lose his business, the owner of one of the “Cousin Cafe” restaurants terminated the contract with the franchise and started redecorating the restaurant to change its image and name. The owner told Bitter Winter that even during the renovation process, he received several anonymous calls, accusing and intimidating him for “doing business with a Hong Kong separatist.”
“The CCP is famous for its history of fights for power. Any resistance against it will lead to bans and punishment,” the businessman explained, adding that he had to part ways with the “Cousin Cafe” merely because he wanted to save his business and knew well what the CCP is capable of.
“In fact, the ‘Cousin Cafe’ has achieved a good reputation, and its business has been very good, too,” a customer at the restaurant said. “But the government does not allow any dissident remarks on the mainland. You might have done all your business for nothing because of one wrong word.”
Money lost, reputation tarnished
Ms. Zhang, a business owner from the southern province of Guangdong, told Bitter Winter that many mainland companies doing business with Hong Kong had been harmed because of the CCP’s stability control measures.
Since June, every time she tried transferring money to her business partners via a bank based in Hong Kong, she couldn’t complete the process because transaction verifications codes wouldn’t go through.
She learned from the bank that many companies were confronted with the same problem: The bank would send out verification codes, but telecommunication companies in mainland China blocked them.
The failure to transfer money to her business partners has caused serious inconveniences for Ms. Zhang and also damaged her company’s reputation. “Because the money failed to reach my business partners on time, they started casting doubts on my credibility,” Ms. Zhang said worriedly. “They now refuse to do business with me until they receive the money. This has resulted in financial loses for my company. I just don’t understand. What’s wrong with the verification codes? They are not sensitive information at all. Why is it also blocked?”
Not only money transfers, but shipment of goods to Hong Kong are also hindered. According to Ms. Zhang, items shipped to any region of Hong Kong are singled out for inspection and verification, slowing down the delivery process. Some shipments have been delayed for as long as a week.