Wells Fargo Joins Drift of Finance Jobs away from Hong Kong

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Wells Fargo (WFC) is the latest financial institution to reduce its presence in Hong Kong after the city passed a much hated, vaguely worded National Security Law which effectively prohibits dissent against the Beijing government. The US bank’s “Project Sun” plan would see Wells Fargo move its Asian hub to Singapore and away from Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, fund giant Vanguard is closing its Hong Kong office and removing its products from the list there. Six Hong Kong-listed exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will cease trading at close on May 10, and any remaining cash proceeds will be returned to investors in June.

US investment banks Citicorp (C), Goldman Sachs (GS) and JP Morgan (JPM) as well as their European counterparts Credit Suisse (CS) and UBS (UBS) all have significantly more jobs available in Singapore than Hong Kong. It is often difficult to identify foolproof plans to downsize Hong Kong or its size, as financial institutions do not want to anger Beijing or endanger their business in mainland China. Such moves are not announced in flashy press releases. But they continue.

Wells Fargo, America’s fourth-largest bank by assets, is quietly focusing on Hong Kong while embarking on a global overhaul. It will slowly make Singapore its new Asian hub by hiring more staff there while reducing Hong Kong and laying off people here, according to the Financial Time, citing “four people with knowledge of the matter”.

Four people is a solid supply. A staff member says the code name for the plan internally is Project Sun. Wells Fargo says it will always maintain a presence in Hong Kong.

“Suggestions that we are diverting our attention from Hong Kong do not accurately reflect our commitment to the market,” the bank told the FT. “Wells Fargo has a long-term presence in Hong Kong, Singapore and the APAC region, including Japan and mainland China, and we will continue to maintain that presence. “

You will notice that the statement does not deny a downsizing in Hong Kong or that leadership positions are moving away. He just maintains that Wells Fargo wants to emphasize its “commitment” to Asia in general – oh yes, and to Hong Kong too – and to keep everyone happy.

One of the factors behind Wells Fargo’s decision is the company’s concern about a heavier compliance burden, now that National Security Law has made “subversion” an ill-defined crime. as well as “secession” and “collusion with a foreign country or with elements.” The bank also wants to reduce its exposure to Hong Kong’s very high commercial rents and geopolitical uncertainty, according to two sources. FT.

An “external element” could quite frankly be anything, including a foreign bank. The “subversion” could be something as simple as an analyst report criticizing China’s economic policy or its response to the coronavirus, which it initially tried to cover up. Is it subversive to say that? A bank compliance officer may very well be wrong on the side of the lawyers and be cautious and say “maybe”. Banks don’t like “maybe”.

These are the latest signs of how far Hong Kong has strayed under Beijing’s puppet government. Laws are selectively enforced, the political opposition has resigned, all prominent activists and dissidents have been charged with various little-used laws and have been given severe penalties for protesting the government, and freedom to the press is threatened.

The last insult is against the truth. Hong Kong Police Commissioner Chris Tang said his force would “immediately launch an investigation” into “fake news,” which we all know means “news that is true, but I don’t care. “. He alleges, without presenting any evidence which is normally the key to police investigations, that vague “foreign force agents” are active in Hong Kong to “spread false news and disinformation to sow discord in the community, provoke violence. division in society and incite violence. “

This claim copies the language used by Beijing, which often alleges that “foreign forces” are subverting China and Hong Kong. Again, they never presented any evidence that this is happening. Is the international media a “foreign force” in itself?

Ridiculously enough, state broadcaster RTHK won a press freedom award from the Hong Kong Journalists Association on Wednesday – and will refuse it. The winning and hard-hitting investigation looks into a mob attack in Yuen Long in 2019, in which an armed gang of thugs linked to the triad tied up subway commuters, some of whom they said were returning from protests. The documentary “7.21 Who owns the truth“analyzed and identified the gangsters who participated in it based on surveillance images and a search for license plates linking their cars to village chiefs. Some villages in Yuen Long are famous for their triad links.

I watched this vicious attack broadcast online, in which an organized group of gangsters wearing a “uniform” of white t-shirts attacked unarmed subway enthusiasts with bamboo poles and metal rods. The police were strangely slow to respond. Madly, the authorities concluded despite the images we can all see with our own eyes that it was a “gang fight”, when the gang was only on one side: gangsters hired to smash the skulls of pro-democracy demonstrators. Indeed, they attacked anyone in the metro or who was in the way.

The most publicized pursuit of this event was not that of a gangster, but of a journalist. Bao Choy produced the award-winning documentary, but has now been selectively prosecuted for accessing a public license plate database to identify who owns the cars that brought the gangsters to the scene. She said she needed information on “traffic and transportation issues”, and in the public interest you can say it did. However, she was fined HK $ 6,000 (US $ 773) for making false statements to gain access to information which, quite frankly, should be available and has never been withheld before.

Bao Choy was only doing his job and collecting information in the public interest and should never have been prosecuted, let alone convicted and fined, ”said Cédric Alviani, head of the East Asia office of Reporters Without Borders, say it correctly. The fact that a journalistic investigation can become a punishable offense highlights the extent of the recent decline in press freedom in Hong Kong. “

Chinese state-backed media have a growing presence in Hong Kong, while the mainland and Hong Kong have denied visas to independent journalists from publications such as the Financial Time, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Jimmy Lai, owner of Hong Kong’s most popular newspaper, Apple Daily, has just been jailed for 14 months for participating in anti-government and pro-democratic demonstrations and for failing to obtain government permission to organize an anti-government demonstration. The pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao now say that Apple Daily should be banned, and you can bet the Hong Kong and Beijing governments are working on it. Hence the police chief’s warning that he will tackle “false news”.

In this context of media intimidation and censorship, critical voices in Hong Kong are gradually being silenced. Its financial industry is also shrinking, as civil liberties disappear. Cities like Singapore are a much safer bet. They are the clear beneficiaries of a trend that will happen gradually, and with little fanfare.

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