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 Monday.
Demonstrators have taken to the streets for seven straight weeks there in protest of a (now-suspended) Hong Kong government bill to allow extradition to the mainland, where suspects would be all but certain to receive harsh punishments under the authoritarian Chinese government’s infamously unfair judicial system. The passage of the bill 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.
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 capitalize 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 4:00 p.m. 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 Monday’s 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 2:40 p.m. 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 seems to be planning on using the protests as a bargaining chip in the ongoing U.S.-China trade war. Trump told reporters on Monday he believed his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, “has reacted very responsibly” and allowed the demonstrations “to go on for a long time.”
Correction: A prior version of this article mischaracterized the extradition proposal that sparked the protests. While the bill is broadly perceived as serving the interests of mainland China, which has indicated support for its passage, it was proposed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government.