'Staff safety is a concern' - Hong Kong PR chief on protests

A PR professional has said 'violence is out of the ordinary' in Hong Kong, as protests across the city over the past few weeks have escalated into angry confrontations and the use of tear gas.

Anti-government protests reached Hong Kong airport this week (©GettyImages)
Anti-government protests reached Hong Kong airport this week (©GettyImages)

Galyna Kulachek is a partner at Instinctif Partners in Hong Kong (HK). She knows the city well, after being seconded there from Instinctif’s London office for two-and-a-half years in 2015, and returning in June this year to manage the consultancy’s team there.

She told PRWeek: "There has been some difficulty during the protests, for the agency [concerned about] staff safety. Sometimes people leave early or work from home when the roads have been blocked."

In March, residents began protesting against a controversial bill that would enable China to extradite fugitives from the city.

The initial weekend rallies were relatively small and peaceful. However, the past few months have seen police and protesters clash on multiple occasions.

A city-wide strike in August brought parts of the city to a standstill, and almost 1,000 flights were cancelled as protesters occupied the airport for two days this week.

"People in HK are usually peaceful; violence is really out of the ordinary," Kulachek said. "They’re concerned about the erosion of the 'one country, two systems' agreement, and I think their demands are justified."

Protestors called for a complete withdrawal of the bill, the withdrawal of the 'riot' characterisation of the June 12 protests, the unconditional release of all arrested protesters, an independent inquiry into police behaviour, and universal suffrage.

The impasse is due to the former British colony's position as the world’s bridge to China, and Hong Kong's desire to maintain a level of autonomy. It operates under its own laws, independent courts and freedom of expression - making it an ideal base for global companies to run their mainland businesses.

Kulachek said she thought the relationship between the Hong Kong government and business leaders was still good, and that the protestors have support from both, adding: "They have lots of support, but of course people also want to see peace."

From the start, Kulachek said the government has communicated the scope of the new law and the reason it was needed poorly, and the government was still not being smart enough in its communications.

On Tuesday this week (13 August), HK’s leader Carrie Lam gave a press conference where she was repeatedly interrupted by reporters who accused her of failing to provide any answers, and if she even has the autonomy to withdraw the controversial extradition bill.

Kulachek said the consultancy’s office was not in an area of the city where clashes between protestors and police have taken place and the consultancy has still been receiving proposals from around South East Asia.

"Although the media work has slightly slowed the moment, as they’re covering the protests and less able to travel around HK for press conferences or interviews," Kulachek said.

"And retail has obviously been affected, so we’re seeing some places closed early and at weekends. For investors it seems to be okay at the moment, but it might gets a bit worse before it recovers."

The government has injected billions of dollars into the Hong Kong economy in a bid to avert a recession as the city's political crisis impacts business and financial markets.

Kulachek said she was committed to the city and her work with Instinctif, despite the recent political climate.

The bill has since been suspended, but protestors have said that isn’t enough.

She added: "It’s a beautiful place to live, usually very peaceful. I hope it will return that way soon."

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