‘Law and order returned’ Hong Kong’s US-sanctioned leader says at banking summit

‘Law and order returned’ Hong Kong’s US-sanctioned leader says at banking summit

on November 2, 2022

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Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee speaks at the opening of the Global Financial Leaders Investment Summit in Hong Kong on November 2, 2022. (Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP)

by Jerome Taylor and Holmes Chan
Agence France-Presse

HONG KONG, China (AFP)  — Hong Kong’s US-sanctioned leader insisted Wednesday that political stability and business confidence in the city has been restored following the crushing of democracy protests, as he opened a financial summit attended by global bankers including leading Wall Street executives.

Hong Kong is hosting a week of high-profile events after years of political unrest and pandemic travel curbs tarnished the city’s business-friendly reputation, sparked an exodus of talent and battered its economy.

The marquee event at the Four Seasons hotel was heralded by city leader John Lee as proof that the previously shuttered Asian finance hub is back in business.

“We were, we are and we will remain one of the world’s leading financial centers. And you can take that to the bank,” Lee told delegates.

Lee, a former police officer and security chief who took office this year, is among the Chinese officials sanctioned by Washington for cracking down on rights in Hong Kong after huge democracy protests. These blacklisted individuals are unable to hold accounts with the same banking giants attending the summit.

Most of the city’s political opposition are either behind bars or have fled overseas since those protests.

“Social disturbance is clearly in the past, and has given way to stability to growth in business and community confidence in Hong Kong’s future,” Lee said in his summit speech.

“Law and order has returned. The worst is behind us,” he added.

Among those due to speak at the summit are Goldman Sachs head David Solomon, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Blackrock president Rob Kapito and JP Morgan Chase counterpart Daniel Pinto.

But their presence is not without controversy.

Last week, the leaders of the bipartisan US Congressional-Executive Commission on China called on Wall Street executives not to attend, accusing them of “whitewashing human rights violations” and giving political cover to Lee.

The row illustrates the tightrope faced by multinationals in Hong Kong, which is both a lucrative business gateway for China and a flashpoint in increasingly tense relations between Beijing and Western powers.

“Hong Kong’s seamless connection with the mainland affords Hong Kong advantages available to no other economy,” Lee declared in his speech.

– Unsettled economic waters –

The summit comes at a time of uncertainty over China’s economy under President Xi Jinping.

Xi, who secured a norm-breaking third term last month, has overseen regulatory crackdowns clipping the wings of some major Chinese companies and is still sticking to a strict zero-Covid strategy.

Hong Kong’s economy saw gross domestic product plunge 4.5 percent in the third quarter of this year, according to preliminary figures released Tuesday.

Its stock exchange is among the world’s worst performers, down more than 50 percent this year to levels last seen in 2009.

Lee’s opening speech will be followed by recorded interviews with three mainland officials involved in regulation, including Yi Gang, the governor of China’s central bank.

That will be followed by a panel titled “Navigating Through Uncertainty” featuring senior executives from Morgan Stanley, Blackstone, UBS, Goldman Sachs and Bank of China president Liu Jin.

Hong Kong finance chief Paul Chan is also expected to give a speech after he was cleared by health officials to attend the conference after testing positive for Covid-19 last week during an overseas trip.

Lee’s speech made no mention of the labyrinthine pandemic rules maintained by both China and, to a lesser extent, Hong Kong.

While Hong Kong scrapped mandatory quarantine in September — a key demand of businesses — it maintains layers of pandemic restrictions long since abandoned by almost everywhere else.

Overseas arrivals must undergo frequent testing and are unable to go to bars and restaurants for their first three days in the city.

Restrictions on various gatherings remain and masks are compulsory, including outdoors.

© Agence France-Presse