fb-pixel Skip to main content

Accounting firms’ objections to Chinese protests don’t add up

Tens of thousands of residents gather to march in downtown streets during an annual pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong Tuesday.AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997, the territory has been a boon for Beijing — a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that burnishes China’s international reputation. Yet the central government seems increasingly determined to kill its golden goose by cracking down on the pro-democracy activists that have long been tolerated in the city. That would be bad enough, and would violate China’s vow to respect the territory’s autonomy for 50 years after the handover. What would be even worse is if the Western companies that have flourished because of Hong Kong’s freedoms now abet Chinese repression.

Unfortunately, the decision by the Big Four multinational accounting companies — Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers — to jointly take out an ad in Hong Kong newspapers opposing a pro-democracy protest sends an ominous message. Last month, protesters staged a symbolic online referendum on the territory’s future and raised the possibility of holding a protest in the city’s financial district. The protesters acknowledged that the online referendum seeking to nominate the territory’s next chief executive has no legal force, yet it still annoyed the Chinese government, which is seeking to control which names appear on the 2017 ballot.


But protesters annoy governments all the time, in almost every country where the four accounting firms do business, and they should have known better than to scold those calling for democracy in Hong Kong. In their ads, the companies said that participation in protests could endanger Hong Kong’s standing as a financial center. But they’ve got it exactly backwards. What has made Hong Kong an international financial center is the strength of the rule of law there and restraints on government power, and what would endanger Hong Kong the most would be its falling under the same authoritarian rules as the rest of China. Western companies operating in Hong Kong should be the first ones to understand that, and the last to publicly discourage its residents from political activism.