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Opinion | Hong Kong’s economic transparency appears to be the next victim of Chinese authoritarianism

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Currently, the registry permit a search of residential addresses and full identification numbers of directors of Hong Kong companies. Under changes proposed on March 30 by Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam, who reports to Beijing, the government plans to show only partial ID numbers and correspondence addresses, and in a later phase, companies will be able to keep all information private.

This will destroy a accountability tool which has often been used to penetrate labyrinthine property structures. Ms Lam said it was necessary to protect oneself from practice doxing or disclosing information online. But a more likely explanation is to provide cover for the Chinese elite who want to hide their illicit financial gains under layers of meaningless names and PO boxes.

The proposal is a setback for media freedom; journalists have often relied on recording investigate commercial transactions involving China. Phone sterilization independent journalism is consistent with China’s broad crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, including the imposition of a restrictive national security law and the arbitrary pursuit of pro-democracy forces.

But the registry is also a mainstay of Hong Kong’s appeal as a financial center, allowing banks and others to do their due diligence. Such verification has long given confidence to those doing business in Hong Kong. The Chinese leadership accepted the transfer of Hong Kong to Britain in 1997 by promising one country, two systems, making Hong Kong a beacon of the rule of law and political freedom. But Beijing sucks the beacon.

Chinese leaders are likely still furious at public disclosures of their family members’ secret wealth. In 2012, the New York Times revealed that relatives of then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had grown rich but their identities were hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, co-workers and business partners and veiled by a complex network of holdings up to five stages distant from operating companies. Ultimately, their identity was established in corporate and regulatory documents, the Times said. That year, Bloomberg News revealed that the relatives of Xi Jinping, then vice-president, had also become very rich, the investments hidden from public view by several holding companies but discovered in thousands of pages of regulatory filings.

Xi, now president of China as he forces Hong Kong to come to heel, may want to block any further embarrassing revelations by spying on reporters. By closing that door, he also exposes as fiction the promise that economic freedom can survive while other freedoms are stifled.

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