Apprehensive about Hong Kong’s future as the best place to do business in China and beyond, multinational firms are pulling up stakes, adding to uncertainty about the outlook for one of the world’s premier commercial cities.
Buffeted by political upheaval, an authoritarian crackdown by mainland China and the pandemic, global companies and professionals are heading to rival business cities such as Singapore, and to Shanghai, the Chinese commercial hub some see as a better place to profit from the nation’s vast economy.
Ever since the U.K. returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city’s leaders have billed the semiautonomous territory as “Asia’s World City”—an open society with a British-style legal system where foreign professionals could feel at home. Today, Hong Kong is becoming less open and more fused to the mainland economy.
Some companies, including banks and other financial institutions, still view Hong Kong as crucial to their China-focused business models and are digging in for the future. Others are eyeing the exit, concluding the city no longer holds the prospects it once did.
“Being in Hong Kong always used to be a no-brainer,” said
chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in the city. “Now, for the first time, businesses are having discussions around, do we need to be in Hong Kong?”
In a survey of members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong released last month, 42% of the 325 respondents said they were considering or planning to leave the city, citing uneasiness over China’s new security law and a pessimistic outlook of Hong Kong’s future.
Dozens of international companies have moved regional headquarters or offices from the city since 2019, government data show. That has contributed to the highest rate of commercial real estate vacancies in 15 years, with more than 80% of the vacant space surrendered by international companies, data compiled by
show. All told, more people—expatriates and locals—departed the business hub in 2020 than any year since the global financial crisis.
, owner of Timberland, the North Face and other brands, said it was shutting its 900-person Hong Kong office after 25 years in the city. Japanese videogame maker Sony Interactive Entertainment has moved regional executives to Singapore. European luxury-goods company
said it was relocating some Hong Kong-based employees from its Moët Hennessy liquor unit. French cosmetics giant
also said it was relocating some staffers from its Hong Kong headquarters.
Hong Kong boosters predict that, once the pandemic…