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Business Unusual

When business, technology and politics collide

8 July 2020 7:15 PM

The most recent example is China’s new security law introduced into Hong Kong.

A business and its staff might have the ambition to take over the world and most would think that it was a fair ambition. For a country or political party to adopt a similar ambition, it is a very different story.

What should companies and the people that work in them do when face with political changes that don’t align with their values?

The short answer for most of history has probably been - too little too late.

There is no shortage of examples which for South Africans includes complying with Apartheid to being complicit with state capture. Hindsight makes it easy to see the problem, but the nature of most change is that it happens slowly.

Likewise, you would want to be sure your actions are justified especially if they will have significant implications.

Hong Kong - one country, two systems

Britain and China began negotiations to return Hong Kong to China in the 1980s the agreement was enacted on 1 July 1997 and would see Hong Kong remain principally autonomous for 50 years.

While it was expected that the region would revert to full control by the Chinese Communist Party in time, residents protested the planned introduction of a law that would allow extradition for those accused of a crime. Millions took to the streets and following repeated clashes the original law was not enacted.

The protests continued in response to what residents saw as the erosion of the freedoms guaranteed to them as part of the agreement.

China’s security law for Hong Kong

The new law is broad and covers actions that could be regarded as protest as acts that could result in long prison sentences.

The United Nations Human Rights Council saw 27 countries object to the new law, but 52 voiced their support.

When countries are divided what should companies do?

Major tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have stopped complying with Hong Kong authorities requests for user data while they decide about the new law.

TikTok a Chinese owned company that operates outside of China has withdrawn the app for users in Hong Kong while the Chinese version will continue. TikTok has said they will not pass user info on to Chinese authorities even as India and the US look to prevent the app from operating in their countries. The company was banned in India

Now the stage is set

China was always going to make Hong Kong part of the country, it was just due to happen in 2047. Will doing so sooner be enough to have major trading partners change their relationship to challenge China about the future of 7 million citizens off China.

What will companies do that rely on producing their products there if their governments increase tariffs or impose sanctions?

What will South Africa do as a Brics member with China’s Xi Jinping effectively able to rule indefinitely? Russia’s Vladimir Putin has secured the backing to serve a further 12 years beyond the effective 16 he has already. India Narendra Modi as head of the World largest democracy does not appear to be as concerned with democratic principles as nationalist ones and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has his hands full with growing infections including his own.

If 2020 was not already a year to make the future look uncertain despite its name, this adds yet another layer of complexity on a very complex situation. These are indeed interesting times.

8 July 2020 7:15 PM

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