Apple Shutters Hong Kong Stores Early As Protests Against Chinese Government, Crackdowns Escalate

Riot police shrouded in gas on the streets of Hong Kong on July 21, 2019. (Photo: Chris McGrath, AP)

Amid mounting unrest and a night of violence in Hong Kong, Apple is among the retailers that have chosen to shut stores or close them early citywide, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets for seven straight weeks there in protest of a proposal by the authoritarian Chinese government to allow extradition of Hong Kong residents to the mainland, where they would be all but certain to receive harsh punishments in its infamously unfair judicial system.

Any such move by Chinese leadership would unmistakably be interpreted as the start of a crackdown on dissidents in Hong Kong, a special administrative region which has a separate political system and where residents enjoy substantially more civil and economic liberties than the rest of the country.

Protesters in Hong Kong on July 21, 2019. (Photo: Chris McGrath, AP)

The protests had largely been peaceful, but on Sunday night devolved into chaos as baton-armed thugs (believed to be triad gangsters targeting demonstrators) attacked people at a metro station and riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.

There is considerable concern that the mainland Chinese government either will capitalise on the events as a pretext for sweeping suppression of the protests or actually orchestrated them.

Apple shut down five of its six Apple stores on Monday at 4pm local time, according to the Journal, some five to six hours early, and closed the sixth entirely. The paper writes that the tech giant is far from the only retailer anxious about potential violence:

Apple’s website referred to the arrangement as “special store hours.”

At a branch of Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s Hollister—next to an Apple store in the shopping belt of Causeway Bay—a Hollister employee said some staff were allowed to leave early to get home to Yuen Long, a suburb close to the border with mainland China, where the attack at the subway station happened Sunday night. Police on Monday said they arrested two people in connection with the attack, as the suburb emptied of most public activity by early evening that day.

Estée Lauder Co. at 2:40pm Monday sent a notice to Hong Kong employees, asking those who live in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, another suburb, to “leave the office as soon as possible,” according to an internal email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Estée Lauder didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple has regularly faced accusations of complying with the whims of Chinese censors to maintain access to the country’s massive market, removing VPN apps from its App Store there, censoring music that references the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and working with a local partner to store its iCloud encryption keys to the mainland, where authorities don’t need to pass legal barriers like obtaining a warrant to search premises and records. That said, whether or not the Apple Store is open is likely not even on the list of concerns Hong Kong locals have right now.

Hong Kong’s autonomy is supposed to be guaranteed until 2047, but as the Washington Post editorial board argued, China appears to be facing little opposition from Donald Trump’s White House as his administration appears using the protests as a bargaining chip in the ongoing U.S.-China trade war. Trump told reporters on Tuesday he believed his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, “has reacted very responsibly” and allowed the demonstrations “to go on for a long time.”

[Wall Street Journal]

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