ROF’s solution for Mayer Brown’s PR team.
The University of Hong Kong instructed Mayer Brown to pressurise democracy campaigners to remove the 'Pillar of Shame', a monument to students killed by the Chinese military in the 1989 massacre, from its campus.
Mayer Brown’s letter demanding the removal of the statue within six days prompted an outcry from pro-democracy and human rights groups, who expressed dismay that a US law firm was helping the Chinese regime to suppress recognition of the massacre.
Amid a PR nightmare, Mayer Brown decided to drop the controversial instruction. "Going forward, Mayer Brown will not be representing its long-time client in this matter", the firm said in a terse statement last Friday.
Its u-turn triggered an angry response from pro-China quarters. Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying implored companies in China not to work with Mayer Brown, declaring on Facebook, "Yes I am calling for a China-wide boycott of Mayer Brown".
Claiming that the firm caved to pressure from the west, he wrote, “From here on, no client in Hong Kong or Mainland China, particularly those with Chinese government connections, will find Mayer Brown dependable". He also asked the Hong Kong Law Society to investigate the firm.
Mayer Brown's predicament is the latest example of the tension between the perception of China as a source of business and the perception of China as an enthusiastic abuser of human rights.
In March, the regime imposed sanctions on Essex Court Chambers after four of its barristers published a legal opinion describing China's treatment of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as a genocide. The penalty prompted another chambers to warn its tenants not to criticise the country.
Mayer Brown did not respond to a request for comment, perhaps because it knows whatever it says will enrage one half of the world or the other.