Nearly four months of unrest in Hong Kong has taken a toll on Hong Kong’s economy, including critical export, tourism and retail sectors. Important cross-border trade with China has also slumped. Hotels have had to put staff on unpaid leave and some are reporting occupancy of less than 10 percent.
On Friday night, protesters gathered again in multiple neighborhoods across Hong Kong.
In Charter Garden in the central area of the city, thousands gathered in a rally to denounce harsh police tactics against protesters. Others demonstrated in areas of Prince Edward and Mongkok where police had stormed subway stations to arrest protesters over the weekend, and were met with rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas.
The Fitch downgrade — the first drop for Hong Kong since 1995 — lowered the territory’s general outlook from “stable” to “negative,” and changed its status as an issuer of long-term, foreign currency debt from AA+ to AA.
The last Fitch downgrade of Hong Kong came two years before the return of the former British colony to China.
“Months of persistent conflict and violence are testing the perimeters and pliability of the ‘one country, two systems’ framework that governs Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland,” Fitch said in a statement.
It added that the protests have “inflicted long-lasting damage” to international perceptions over Hong Kong’s ability to maintain its “governance system and rule of law.” The unrest also has “called into question the stability and dynamism of its business environment,” Fitch wrote.
Hong Kong officials quickly criticized Fitch’s assessment.
A statement from Hong Kong’s financial secretary, Paul Chan, asserted that the territory’s legal structure was sound and provided a “strong safeguard to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”
Chan added that the protests have not undermined “Hong Kong’s core competitiveness” and its role as a major financial center.
“Fitch’s remarks are purely speculative and groundless,” he said.
Hong Kong’s shares did not appear shaken by the Fitch announcement. The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed up .6 percent.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of a bill that would have allowed extradition to the mainland. The proposal touched off the rallies and marches last spring, but protest leaders called Lam’s concession insufficient amid a range of other demands that include an independent probe of police use of force.
Murphy reported from Washington.