As Beijing moved ahead with a national security law for Hong Kong, some of the hundreds of thousands of professionals working at the local units of Chinese financial firms could find themselves stuck in the crosshairs.
Staff at BOC Hong Kong, the local arm of Bank of China, CEB International, a unit of China Everbright Bank, and a local unit of China Construction Bank said they had been asked by managers in the last few days to put in signatures in support of the law.
Beijing unveiled plans last week for the law that aims to tackle any secession, subversion and terrorist activities in the city, and China's parliament approved it on Thursday. Democracy activists and Western countries fear it could jeopardise the city's special autonomy and freedoms.
BOC Hong Kong, CEB International and the local unit of China Construction Bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The headquarters of Bank of China and China Construction Bank declined to comment, while China Everbright Bank did not respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kong and Beijing authorities have insisted there is no risk to the city's high degree of autonomy or to the business environment, urging patience until the laws are finalised.
Pro-Beijing camps in Hong Kong have been collecting signatures backing the law at street booths and online, media reports said.
"All the Chinese financial firms are doing this now to support the government in creating favourable sentiment for imposing the law," said a Hong Kong banker at a unit of China Construction Bank.
However, the banker, and two other staff at BOC Hong Kong and CEB International, said their firms had not made it mandatory for staff to sign. All of them declined to be identified, fearing retribution from their employers.
Chinese banks, fund managers, insurance companies and brokerages are among the biggest employers in the city, which was rocked by protests last year over an unsuccessful plan to introduce an extradition law with China.
Business leaders, trade chambers and diplomats have said pushing through the legislation could mark a turning point for Hong Kong's future as a global financial centre.
The Hong Kong Finance General Employee Union has sent three complaint letters to local units of Chinese financial firms asking them why they are pushing the staff to show their support for the law, its Chairman Ka-Wing Kwok said.
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee, Clare Jim and Kane Wu; additional reporting by Cheng Leng in Beijing; Editing by Kim Coghill)