Hong Kong government pledges funds to boost economy hit by months of unrest

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s government pledged HK$4 billion ($511 million) on Wednesday in new relief measures to help bolster an economy battered by months of protests that have eroded business confidence in the international financial hub.

The boost brings the government’s total stimulus to HK$25 billion ($3.2 billion) since this summer to right an economy, which is reeling from sharp drops in tourism and retail sales.

The Chinese-ruled city has been convulsed by nearly six months of anti-Beijing protests that have sometimes turned violent.

It is now grappling with its first recession in a decade and deepening concern that international investors may be growing more skittish.

“During an economic downturn, supporting employment is the number one priority of the government,” Financial Secretary Paul Chan said as he announced the package.

He said the measures were mainly aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses in order to safeguard jobs. The demonstrations were hurting investor confidence, he told reporters.

The protests were sparked by a controversial and since-withdrawn extradition bill and have swelled into broader calls for greater democratic freedoms.

Those taking part in the pro-democracy demonstrations accuse China of increasingly interfering in freedoms promised to the former British colony when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs.


Earlier on Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund urged the government to deliver “significantly” more fiscal stimulus to address the downturn and longer-term structural issues such as insufficient housing and income inequality.

Business activity in Hong Kong contracted at the fastest pace in 21 years in November, dragged down by the protests and softening global demand, an IHS Markit survey showed.

Hong Kong is a top shopping destination for Chinese tourists. But the unrest has scared off visitors and hit spending. This week the city recorded its largest-ever retail collapse, with sales dropping 24.3 percent to HK$30.1 billion in October.

Asia’s largest distributor of luxury brands, the Blubell group, has appealed to Hong Kong landlords to scrap the base rent in shopping malls, saying a slump in tourist spending will push even more retailers out of business.

Separately, police this week re-entered the campus of a university besieged for more than 10 days last month, picking up chemicals and petrol bombs hoarded by anti-government protesters.

Officers were called to retrieve the items found among the debris and stowed in locked areas at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, recently a battleground between demonstrators and police.

Between Nov. 26 and Dec. 2 authorities seized 4,296 petrol bombs, 671 bottles of chemicals and 622 weapons, police said on Tuesday.

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Officers first entered the Polytechnic campus on Nov. 29, when they collected thousands of petrol bombs, as well as bows and arrows and bottles of chemicals.

The campus conflict began in mid-November when protesters barricaded themselves against riot police in days of violent clashes that marked an escalation in the political unrest.

About 1,100 people were arrested in connection with the campus siege.

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