The Hong Kong Political Situation - The Yellow Economic Circle

Written by: Ines Chu

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/studiokanu/48582859941


Introduction

The yellow economic circle, often identified as the yellow economy, is a method focused on their support or resistance to the 2019-20 protests to identify companies in Hong Kong. Supporting businesses of the movement are often classified as “yellow shops”[1] while those in favour of the government or police force are classified as “blue shops”[2]. Protesters formed the yellow economic circle to promote like-minded enterprises,[3] in order to maintain the livelihoods and establish employment opportunities for pro-democracy entrepreneurs while reducing dependency on firms linked to the Communist Party of China.[4]


Effectiveness of the Yellow Economic Circle

As one of Asia’s most important financial and trading centers, numerous individuals believe that the city’s economic influence can act as a powerful force to create a significant political reform. It was mentioned by political analyst Kay Lam that “The CCP has already set up the ‘red economic circle’ and compelled businessmen and entertainment artists to express their loyalty. Anyone who does not toe the line would be censored. The ‘red economic circle’ is initiated by state power, it is more effective and powerful than other initiatives … The so-called yellow economic circle is the result of the people’s political awakening triggered by the anti-extradition protests. Now, people are actively boycotting the pro-Beijing businesses and artists. One immediate effect of the yellow economic circle is to generate counter political pressure that compels businessmen and artists to have a second thought before they choose to participate in pro-government propaganda…”[5] While the “Yellow Effect” that has been established by the Yellow Economic Circle has proven a certain amount of success as it was mentioned in a public poll by Ming Pao that “a total of 93.6% of voters expressed their support and participation in the ‘yellow economic circle’.”[6] During the first week of May, its rise in popularity as a sociological trend was obvious by its media exposure; alternatively named 'Golden Week' by the people of Hong Kong to enable the 'yellow economy' to be publicly patronized. Not only does the Yellow Economic Circle aid the movement financially, it also helps boost morale of supporters of the movement by collective cooperation, especially through “Golden Week”, where it urged consumers to follow purchasing and retail methods to further incentivise “yellow shops” while establishing a “society of conscience”. The effect of the Yellow Economic Circle was particularly evident when there was a wave of Chinese enterprise closures. An example would be ‘HeyTea’, which was thriving with booming business before the movement but was boycotted after the establishment of the Yellow Economic Circle, leaving only ¼ of its shops open due to reduced sales. However, some might suggest that the Yellow Economic Circle would result in the isolation of yellow enterprises from the global economy. Despite the possibility of this phenomenon, it can be easily offset by wiser consumer strategies. Finance news columnist Chow Hin said, “The yellow economic circle should not exclude blue (pro-establishment) customers, they should welcome blue money, the more the better. However, when they hire staff, they should favor the yellow ones. Also, buy from the yellow. This is the key to the success of the yellow economic circle.” [7] Hence, it can be argued that the Yellow Economic Circle has taken a positive effect on the movement, even though it can be even more effective with wiser economic strategies.


Yellow Economic Circle and the National Security Law

After the national security law has taken its effect, quite a few “yellow shops” have stepped back from publicly supporting the movement since the unexpected withdrawal of a major spokesperson. This phenomenon began after a movement advocate as well as Lung Mun Cafe Chain’s owner, Cheung Chun Kit announced that he was officially backing out from the “yellow economic circle”. While he reinforced his support to the movement by stating that he would continue to standing up to social injustices, he would find other ways to advocate his message as it was mentioned by an article on SCMP that “he faced tremendous pressure as he was recently followed by strangers, and told by others that people were plotting to harass his family.” Cheung also stated that he has “also been smeared with unfounded allegations such as money laundering. In the face of the national security law, I don’t want my political stance to implicate my staff. We are talking about 200 of them. After careful consideration I’ve decided to quit [the circle].”[8] To further prove that the National Security Law’s detriments to the Yellow Economic Circle, convenor of the Hong Kong Small and Middle Restaurant Federation Gordon Lam Sui-wa said that “Many yellow shops are worried that their propaganda posters will land them in trouble, such as being implicated for inciting subversion of the state. That’s why some shops have cleared out their material to avoid being accused of violating the law,”[9] indicating the implementation of the law had taken a toll on the yellow economic circle. The legislation has also created ‘White Terror’ among the city, which affects yellow businesses significantly as shop owners are now hesitant to indicate their political stance as Lam also stated that he has “always made my stance clear but I’ve never put up material.”[10] Thus, although the Yellow Economic Circle was thriving before the implementation of the National Security Law, a lot of the yellow shops are now backing out from it due to the “White Terror” effect that comes with the legislation itself.


Sustainability of the Yellow Economic Circle

Owing to the absence of a unified objective and ideology of the campaign, some are quite skeptical about the Yellow Economic Circle’s long-term viability. In the long-term, the movement is widely considered to be profoundly unsustainable. It would be difficult to build a fully 'yellow' supply chain due to the strong dependency on the Mainland for trade and exports, and it would be impractical for the campaign to reach absolute self-sufficiency. Thus it hinders its capacity to build an autonomous economy.[11] Due to its operations being restricted to low-risk' business sectors, such as those of the restaurants and service sectors, additional classification of its status as an 'economic circle' can be obtained. Notwithstanding its amounts of success, it should be reinforced that not only do these businesses have strong replacement rates and only make up a small portion of Hong Kong's GDP. The banking and insurance markets, technical services and real estate are the major makeup of Hong Kong's economy. These companies would remain unharmed by the 'yellow influence' due to many of these possessing huge capitals, some even being Chinese-funded and keeping good ties with the Mainland.[12] However, there are still possibilities that the movement may survive. In order to ensure its long-term survival, the full use of its existing talent capital and the tactical utilization of its available capital should be emphasized. Thus, it can be argued that the sustainability and survival of the Yellow Economic Circle heavily depends on its approach economically.


Conclusion

Although the Yellow Economic Circle has positively influenced the political movement in Hong Kong shortly after it's been established, the National Security Law took a toll on its effectiveness as businesses have been backing out from the circle. Despite facing such political fear, the yellow economic circle can still arguably be sustained with wise economic strategies and choices.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors, and do not reflect the views or opinions of the Durham Asian Law Journal.



Bibliography

Cheng, Kris (27 November 2019). "Explainer: What can Hong Kong's democrats do with their new District Council majority?". Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP). Archived from the original on 20 April 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2020. (accessed 18 November 2020)

Beech, Hannah; Fei, Lam Yik (19 January 2020). "Yellow or Blue? In Hong Kong, Businesses Choose Political Sides". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 21 April 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020. (accessed 18 November 2020)


潘國偉 (7 May 2020). "淺談黃色經濟圈的象徵意義:當銀票變成「選票」 請踴躍「投票」". 立場新聞 Stand News (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 8 May 2020. Retrieved 17 May 2020.(accessed 18 November 2020)


林祖偉 (17 December 2019). "香港抗議:政治立場主導,消費分黃藍". BBC News (in Chinese).

“In Hong Kong, local entrepreneurs champion the pro-democracy cause’

<https://hongkongfp.com/2019/12/28/hong-kong-local-entrepreneurs-champion-pro-democracy-cause>Hong Kong Free Press HKFPDate accessedNovember 20, 2020 Date published March 31, 2020(accessed 18 November 2020)


“The ‘Yellow Effect’ - how successful has the ‘yellow economic circle’ been in achieving its aims?” , UCL Asiatic Affairs, (accessed 18 November 2020)

<https://www.uclasiaticaffairs.com/publications-list/the-yellow-effect-how-successful-has-the-yellow-economic-circle-been-in-achieving-its-aimshttps://www.uclasiaticaffairs.com/publications-list/the-yellow-effect-how-successful-has-the-yellow-economic-circle-been-in-achieving-its-aims> Date accessedNovember 20, 2020 Date published june 4 2020 (accessed 18 November 2020)


“‘Yellow economic circle’ takes a hit as protest-friendly shops in Hong Kong back off amid uncertainty over national security law” , Cannix Yau and Denise Tsang <https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/hong-kong-economy/article/3091263/yellow-economic-circle-takes-hit-protest-friendly> (accessed 18 November 2020)


“Contingency or conditionality? How the ‘yellow economy’ must transform itself for survival” <https://www.uclasiaticaffairs.com/publications-list/contingency-or-conditionality-how-the-yellow-economy-must-transform-itself-for-survival> Jun 4

Written By UCL Asiatic Affairs (accessed 18 November 2020)


[1] Cheng, Kris (27 November 2019). "Explainer: What can Hong Kong's democrats do with their new District Council majority?". Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP). Archived from the original on 20 April 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2020. [2] Beech, Hannah; Fei, Lam Yik (19 January 2020). "Yellow or Blue? In Hong Kong, Businesses Choose Political Sides". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 21 April 2020. Retrieved 22 May 2020. [3]潘國偉 (7 May 2020). "淺談黃色經濟圈的象徵意義:當銀票變成「選票」 請踴躍「投票」". 立場新聞 Stand News (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 8 May 2020. Retrieved 17 May 2020. [4]林祖偉 (17 December 2019). "香港抗議:政治立場主導,消費分黃藍". BBC News (in Chinese). [5]“In Hong Kong, local entrepreneurs champion the pro-democracy cause’ <https://hongkongfp.com/2019/12/28/hong-kong-local-entrepreneurs-champion-pro-democracy-cause>Hong Kong Free Press HKFPDate accessedNovember 20, 2020 Date published March 31, 2020 [6]“The ‘Yellow Effect’ - how successful has the ‘yellow economic circle’ been in achieving its aims?” , UCL Asiatic Affairs, <https://www.uclasiaticaffairs.com/publications-list/the-yellow-effect-how-successful-has-the-yellow-economic-circle-been-in-achieving-its-aims> Date accessedNovember 20, 2020 Date published june 4 2020 [7]Ibid 5 [8] Ibid [9]“‘Yellow economic circle’ takes a hit as protest-friendly shops in Hong Kong back off amid uncertainty over national security law” , Cannix Yau and Denise Tsang <https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/hong-kong-economy/article/3091263/yellow-economic-circle-takes-hit-protest-friendly> [10] Ibid [11]“Contingency or conditionality? How the ‘yellow economy’ must transform itself for survival” <https://www.uclasiaticaffairs.com/publications-list/contingency-or-conditionality-how-the-yellow-economy-must-transform-itself-for-survival> Jun 4 Written By UCL Asiatic Affairs [12] Ibid



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