Uber has proposed moving its Asia-Pacific headquarters from Singapore to Hong Kong.
Yes, that Hong Kong: the one wracked by months of pro-democracy protests, the coronavirus, and this week news that China plans to give itself the power to deploy its security forces in the special administrative region.
Having stared down regulators everywhere in its early years, Uber is seemingly unafraid of the move.
"Like any other business, we are watching the situation closely. It's a bit early to speculate what may or may not happen," said Uber's general manager for Hong Kong, Estyn Chung, at a news conference.
One of the things Uber would like to happen is for its services to be made legal in Hong Kong. The company's ride-sharing operations are still technically illegal and continue to face fierce resistance from the local taxi industry.
"Uber is ready to move its regional headquarters to Hong Kong... but regulatory certainty is key," Chung said. "It's time for the government to regulate ride-sharing so we can bring jobs and investment to Hong Kong."
Chung said that the move is contingent on the city's regulatory policies changing and that no decision has yet been made. "It's simply not possible for any business to make significant investments without regulatory certainty," he said.
"We're asking the government and community leaders to sit with us and hear our vision and investment plan for Hong Kong, so together we can find a pathway to regulate ride-sharing."
The company is expected to formally approach the government with its proposal in the next few days. If all goes well, the move is expected some time next year.
Singapore is a slightly odd place to headquarter Uber's Asian operations given that the company does not operate in the country. In 2018, Uber sold its Southeast Asian operations to local rival Grab, which is also based in Singapore, for a 27.5 per cent stake in the new combined business.
Alongside the announcement, Uber also said 600 heads would roll from its Indian office due to the "impact of COVID-19 and the unpredictable nature of the recovery". The cuts come as part of plans announced earlier this month to lay off more than 3,000 workers and close 45 offices globally.
The new headquarters will oversee nine countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. The company has no plans to reopen its operations in Southeast Asia. ®