Protesters have called on Hongkongers to cut their personal spending and boycott businesses seen as pro-Beijing in a bid to inflict temporary damage to the economy and force the Hong Kong government to bow to their demands.
A new online campaign called “Bye Buy Day HK” urged activists to spend less on Fridays and Sundays and avoid retailers and other firms which do not share their political views.
An economist at Chinese University has said positive campaigns could have negative repercussions, warning the strategy could hit a large number of people financially.
Human resources officer Candy Ng has slashed her spending on food and shopping by more than half as an alternative to taking to the streets for anti-government protests.
The organisers, who remain anonymous, have named several big chains and businesses they said were pro-China, including Japanese food chain Yoshinoya, McDonald's, Cafe de Coral, online shopping site Ztore and others.
Ng, 40, said she checked the lists put out by the campaign organisers, and avoided restaurant chains and shops owned by influential business groups.
She has halved her weekly spending on food and leisure to about HK$1,700 (US$217) and now takes her custom to small businesses that support the protests.
“When clashes are considered violent, we can’t just do nothing,” she said.
She hoped that when these big businesses saw their takings fall, they would pressure the government to respond to the protesters’ demands.
Hong Kong has been rocked by protests since June 9, sparked by controversy over the now-shelved extradition bill, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent back to mainland China.
The anti-government movement has five main demands, including the bill’s complete withdrawal, the establishment of an independent inquiry into police’s handling of protests and genuine universal suffrage.
Ng is among about 10,000 people who have joined the online movement to tighten the purse strings at a time when Hong Kong’s economy faces the prospect of a technical recession in the July-to-September quarter and the government has rolled out a HK$19.1 billion (US$2.4 billion) package of relief measures for businesses and individuals.
Referring to the economy as potentially the government’s “pain point”, the Bye Buy Day organisers claimed their supporters included investment bankers and teachers.
They said the campaign allowed peaceful protesters to take part in the anti-government movement in a lawful manner, and hoped to tap in to the estimated 2 million people who marched on June 16.
Aware of the damage the campaign might do, they said losses from an economic downturn could be recovered, but once Hong Kong’s rule of law and freedoms were gone, it would be permanent.
Protesters have been updating the lists of businesses they say are pro-government, or pro-Beijing. Each time a business owner speaks up against the protesters, his or her shops were added to the list.
People like Ng and musician Jermy Ho, 30, referred to the lists to decide which shops to stay away from.
Ho has cut his spending in the knowledge he could suffer if Hong Kong’s economy was damaged.
“Still, personal freedom is the most important,” he added.
The ongoing protests – including sit-ins at Hong Kong International Airport that led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights last week – have already taken a toll on the city’s tourism industry, with visitor arrivals falling sharply.
According to Travel Industry Council data, at least 140 Hong Kong tour groups, with about 3,000 travellers going in or out the city, were affected from August 12 to 14.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the airport disruption had dented Hong Kong’s reputation as a top destination, which drew a record 65.1 million visitors last year.
It is hard to tell what impact the Bye Buy Day campaign will have, coming when retailers have already been complaining of a slowdown in business.
Citing members’ feedback, Hong Kong Retail Management Association board member Bankee Kwan estimated earlier that sales would drop in July and go down further in August.
Liberal Party lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai warned the retail sector faces a “chilly winter”, with luxury goods stores likely to be hit hard.
Chinese University economist Terence Chong Tai-leung said given the state of the economy, the Bye Buy Day campaign might end up hurting more people.
He said even worthwhile campaigns could cause collateral damage, adding: “For the sake of Hong Kong, we shouldn’t do something like this.”
Additional reporting by Zoe Low
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