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Hong Kong  Business Community Unmoved by Protests - 2003-07-03

Mass protests in Hong Kong over the territory's proposed security law are making headlines across the world. But for the city's business community, it is business as usual.

Half a million Hong Kong residents took to the streets Tuesday to protest the government's new security legislation, with many fearing the proposed law will greatly curb civil liberties.

But despite the size of the demonstrations and plans for more street action to come, many in the territory's business community feel the new laws will have little impact on the local economy.

Pieter van der Schaft, regional economist for Barclays Capital Asia in Hong Kong, says the right to do business will not be affected.

"I think that certainly the emphasis remains that Hong Kong will continue to enjoy its economic freedoms, and I think that's basically what the business community recognizes," he said.

Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce chief economist David O'Rear agrees, saying controversy over the security bill is much ado about nothing.

He adds that foreign investment is not likely to change and even continued protests will not shake the foreign business community, given the mobility of operations in Hong Kong.

"Foreign investment in Hong Kong is not $100 million factories," said David O'Rear. "It's a dozen people in an office in Exchange Square. And even if there were concerns about the effects of this legislation, the cost of pulling out of such an operation is a dozen airplane tickets."

Even the commotion-sensitive tourist industry is predicting few problems from either the new laws or the protests against them. Simon Clennell of the Hong Kong Tourism Board says the massive protests may help rather than hurt the territory's image.

"For a rally of half a million people to take place without any violence or injury actually says quite a lot in itself of the high levels of safety and stability in Hong Kong," he said.

Tuesday's protest actually had a positive effect for some businesses. Several convenience stores along the march route reported higher than usual sales of bottled water and ice cream, thanks to the day's hot weather.