- - Thursday, October 2, 2014

HONG KONG — Business leaders already are beginning to eye more peaceful markets amid Hong Kong’s massive pro-democracy demonstrations.

Even if the protests against Beijing haven’t delivered an economic knockout, Singapore is looking good these days, regional and financial analysts say.

“Businesses [in Hong Kong] cannot open their doors at the moment,” said Nadine Godehardt, an Asian affairs analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “And it seems police are in the background now, not reacting to the protests.”

On Thursday, businesses near the protest in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district remained shut or had little traffic, and tourists were absent from the city’s famous landmarks and shopping areas.

Also, the China National Tourism Administration suspended visits by tour groups to Hong Kong this week. Mainland Chinese account for 75 percent of all visitors to the city and spend billions of dollars on luxury goods there annually.

“It means that there will be no more mainland tours a week from now,” Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Hong Kong Travel Industry Council, told the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the city’s top official, refused demonstrators’ demands that he resign by midnight Thursday, but he offered to open talks with protest leaders to help defuse tensions in what has become the biggest challenge to Chinese authority since the 1989 Tiananmen Square revolt.

Early Friday, the Hong Kong Federation of Students said it planned to join the talks with the government, focused specifically on political reforms, The Associated Press reported. But the group reiterated that Mr. Leung must step down because he “had lost his integrity.”

A wider pro-democracy group that joined the demonstrations, Occupy Central, welcomed the talks and also insisted that Mr. Leung quit.

Occupy Central “hopes the talks can provide a turning point in the current political stalemate,” it said in a statement. “However, we reiterate our view that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is the one responsible for the stalemate, and that he must step down.”

Mr. Leung’s responded flatly: “I will not resign.”

“It’s turning out to be a high-stakes poker game. The stakes are rising,” said Willy Lam, a politics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Something will have to give because the pressure keeps mounting on both sides to make a compromise.”

Protesters, meanwhile, appeared unconcerned about the demonstration’s impact on Hong Kong’s economy.

“The protest will do some harm to the economy,” said Phoenix Yeung, a graphics designer who has been demonstrating since Monday. “Still, we are gaining something more precious: maybe a way out, maybe just an open window. That’s hope we are buying, at the cost of lower spending, the harm to the economy — something I think is worthy.”

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing business community is worried about the activists’ threat to escalate the demonstrations, which Beijing has warned would result in chaos.

Meeting with Chinese leaders in advance of the demonstrations almost two weeks ago in the mainland capital of Beijing, they warned protest leaders of the economic impact on the city.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s leading financial centers and has one of the freest economies on the planet, according to the Index of Economic Freedom. The city’s government boasts a gross domestic product of $260 billion for 2013 and steady growth rates of almost 3 percent.

Hong Kong’s financial sector now is watching with concern, Ms. Godehardt said.

“There is a big majority in the business and financial sector that do not support this demonstration,” she said. “They support the status quo and they want to do business with China. Basically, most of the Hong Kong administration has done business with China and also Leung is depending on this — there are many links between the two sides.”

Protests began last week, with students boycotting classes to demand free elections in 2017 as China promised when it took over the British colony in 1997. Beijing granted Hong Kong certain civil liberties via a miniconstitution and elections for its top post.

But in proposed guidelines for the vote published in late August, China’s leadership granted the “one man, one vote” rule but rejected an open nomination process for candidates for the city’s leadership post of chief executive.

China wants to limit the number of candidates and make sure those selected are vetted by a committee the way it currently is done — by pro-Beijing elites — essentially leaving the top post under the control of the mainland Communist Party.

That is unacceptable to protesters in the Umbrella Revolution, so called for the use of umbrellas to deflect pepper spray.

That they have added the city’s leader resignation to their list of demands is a significant development, analysts say, because it is about more than China — it is also about Hong Kong’s leadership.

Still, Ms. Godehardt said, Beijing is unlikely to resort to the brutal style of crackdown on Tiananmen Square 25 years ago.

“This fight is for Hong Kong, and people on the street are not fighting for a new China or asking the Communist Party to step down or anything like that,” she said. “They are interested in a more democratic development of Hong Kong; they are fighting for their own future in Hong Kong.”

For Grace, a protester at the rallies for the past few days, the expression of public demand itself is a worthy democratic exercise.

“I think this is a lesson of citizen empowerment,” she said. “People learned that we can also fight for what we want.”

Other protesters said they have been emboldened by police use of tear gas and pepper spray in breaking up protests Sunday — a move that fueled public anger and support for the demonstrations.

“I felt a little bit scared before, especially when bullets of tear gas passed just next to me,” said Horace, a teacher. “But more than fear, I feel anger. And now my determination is strong.”

Luigi Serenelli in Berlin contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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