Hong Kong government must end protest crisis and avoid US-China tensions, says US garment trade chief Rick Helfenbein

Denise Tsang

One of America’s largest trade groups has voiced concern for the safety of workers amid Hong Kong’s ongoing protest crisis and warned of further political complications should the turmoil continue.

Rick Helfenbein, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association – an advocacy group that represents more than 1,000 major brands – on Tuesday said many members with headquarters in Hong Kong had expressed fears about safety.

“I am not feeling unsafe at all, but what we see on television and in newspapers scares people to come here,” Helfenbein said in an interview on Tuesday. “It has been going on for too long and the government needs to deal with it itself. ”

Despite the unrest, he added that the association’s members had no plans to leave Hong Kong at this time.

Since June, anti-government protests have spread across Hong Kong and violence has intensified. Radical protesters often target MTR stations, government buildings, and restaurants, shops and banks with connections to mainland China.

Anti-government protesters clash with police in Tsim Sha Tsui on October 27. Photo: Sam Tsang

The chaos has taken a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s economy, which was already caught in the crossfire of the US-China trade war. The city slipped into a recession in the third quarter of this year, with the economy contracting 3.2 per cent from the preceding quarter.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday unexpectedly summoned Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for a meeting about the unrest on the sidelines of a trade expo in Shanghai. Lam later said Xi “expressed care and concern” about the situation in Hong Kong.

Helfenbein warned that the longer the chaos dragged on, the higher the risks would be to the third parties involved.

He made reference to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which the US House of Representatives approved on October 16. The measure could pave the way for diplomatic action and economic sanctions against individuals deemed responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“The bill is now sitting in the Senate, there are a lot of people who are anxious to pitch the bill because in their mind they are helping Hong Kong people,” he said. “Other people should not get involved in the problem, which originated here [in Hong Kong] and the Hong Kong government should find a way to work it out.”

Protesters wave American flags on October 14 during a protest to urge US congressmen to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Photo: Felix Wong

The US legislation elicited an outcry from Beijing, which accused American lawmakers of a “political plot” to thwart China’s development and of meddling in its internal affairs.

Helfenbein said businesses should not get involved in the politics surrounding the Hong Kong protests or the US-China trade war.

“The advice to our members is: Do your business and do not get involved in Chinese politics,” he said.

President Donald Trump and Xi are expected to reach an interim deal this month to end the trade war that has continued for more than a year.

But Helfenbein said even if a temporary deal was signed, it would not be “a win for the industry at all”.

Helfenbein said Americans were still subjected to 25 per cent tariffs on backpacks, handbags, luggage, hats and gloves. He said 92 per cent of clothing, 53 per cent of shoes and 68 per cent of home textiles imported from China were subject to another 15 per cent in tariffs.

“The trade war is about technology, 5G and [China’s telecoms giant] Huawei,” he said. ” Why are we involved in this stupid fight?”

This article Hong Kong government must end protest crisis and avoid US-China tensions, says US garment trade chief Rick Helfenbein first appeared on South China Morning Post

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