The new chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, Walter Dias, said on Friday that his organisation is “concerned” about the recent disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers who sold titles critical of mainland leaders.
The whereabouts of three men remains unknown, while the authorities have confirmed that the two others are in the mainland.
There’s been rampant speculation that one of them, Lee Bo, was illegally abducted by mainland security agents in Hong Kong and brought across the border, sparking claims that the freedoms promised to the territory under the One Country, Two Systems policy have been seriously eroded.
While Dias spoke about the importance of One Country, Two Systems to the city's competitiveness in his inaugural speech as Amcham chairman, he told reporters afterwards that “generally, we believe that the rule of law [and] the independent judiciary is still rock solid in Hong Kong.”
He said the chamber will continue monitoring developments, and that it encourages the Hong Kong and Central governments to continue their dialogue and “work through” what’s happening.
Dias also said Amcham remains bullish on both the Hong Kong and Chinese economies, adding that the SAR needs to consolidate its position as a gateway in and out of China.
“People want to come to Hong Kong from China to set up companies to be able to go global. They don’t want to do it from Shanghai, they don’t want to do it from Beijing, and quite frankly, Hong Kong’s set up perfectly to do that because we have the rule of law, we have the financial services sector here that’s… one of the financial centres of the world,” he said.
However, Dias said one area where Hong Kong’s been lacking is its lack of adequate protection for intellectual property. He urged lawmakers to quickly pass an amendment bill that would strengthen copyright protection.
He said, “it’s something we should have done ten years ago, I think it’s actually impacted Hong Kong negatively not to have that type of [intellectual property rights] protection because enterprises that work in that knowledge economy, they’re reluctant to do things here because of some of the weaknesses in the current law.”
He also said some of the concerns that the amendment bill would encroach on the rights of internet users have been “overblown,” noting that many protections are already inbuilt into the Basic Law.