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Protesters just got one of Asia's largest banks to suspend its Hong Kong office

Protesters block off downtown Hong Kong
Protesters block off downtown Hong Kong

One of the largest banks in Asia, DBS (Development Bank of Singapore), has announced that it would suspend business at its Hong Kong office on Monday in response to the pro-democracy protests. In itself, one bank closing its office is not a big deal. But the mere possibility that protests could shut down the city's hugely important and lucrative financial sector could raise the already-sky-high stakes for both sides of the crisis.

Protesters led by a group called Occupy Central have, since Friday, been occupying Hong Kong's Central district, a hub of government as well as its famous financial sector. The police began cracking down with unusual severity over the weekend, mostly because the protesters were challenging the central Chinese government in Beijing, but also perhaps because their occupation threatened to disrupt the financial sector if they were not cleared by the time markets opened on Monday.

Now it appears that the protesters will still be in Hong Kong's Central district when markets open on Monday morning, and part of the reason is the police crackdown itself, which only incensed Hong Kongers and led many to join the demonstrations.

Come Monday morning, many of Hong Kong's influential and largely conservative businessmen and women will want to get to work, and their government — not to mention the rest of Asia — will suffer financially if they can't. The big question here is whether this leads Hong Kong's business community to blame the protesters, or to blame the government for its crackdown and Beijing for sparking this crisis by reneging on its promise to grant Hong Kong full democracy in 2017. The business community could swing Hong Kong popular opinion more widely, so how they respond matters.

So far, it's just one bank branch that won't be opened for business on Monday, so the business community may not necessarily weigh in one way or the other. But if more financial institutions close down or are otherwise disrupted, this may force the Hong Kong business community to take sides. That could have a big influence on how this all plays out.

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