Hong Kong leader John Lee sought to boost confidence in the city’s future as a global financial center on Wednesday as he welcomed some of Wall Street’s top executives to its biggest international event. For years.
Speaking at an investment summit that drew more than 200 attendees from 20 countries, the city’s chief executive said it was “opening up again” to international business after more than two years and half of tough pandemic restrictions.
As he addressed some of the executives present, including Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO David Solomon, Morgan Stanley (MS) CEO James Gorman, UBS (UBS) Chairman Colm Kelleher, CEO of HSBC (HSBC) Noel Quinn and Standard Chartered (SCBFF) CEO Bill Winters, the head of government insisted on reaffirming his intention to keep the former British colony competitive for global finance.
“We were, are and will remain one of the world’s leading financial centers,” Lee pledged. “You can take this to the bank.”
Lee also sought to reassure leaders that Hong Kong would maintain a separate role from mainland China, saying central government officials had voiced support for the city retaining its unique position as a bridge between the East and the West.
China’s latest five-year plan includes goals to enhance the city’s role as an international trade, financial, maritime and air hub, Lee said. “The worst is behind us”
Solomon, Gorman and Kelleher, who took the stage for a panel shortly after Lee’s remarks, did not comment directly on the reopening of the city. But Kelleher noted that “although we’re all very pro-China,” the bank is “waiting for zero-Covid to open up in China and see what happens.”
In September, Hong Kong lifted quarantine requirements that had largely isolated the city, stifled economic activity and fueled a historic brain drain. Mainland China, however, still has a mandate in place for most incoming travelers to self-isolate for at least seven days, as part of its strict “zero-Covid policy”.
That contrast was highlighted on Wednesday when mainland Chinese officials — including People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang — addressed the conference in pre-recorded video remarks, rather than attending in person.
Hong Kong’s economy is highly dependent on financial services. In 2020, the sector contributed $76 billion, or about 23% of its GDP, Lee said.
In an interview with CNN Business, DBS Hong Kong CEO Sebastian Paredes called the show of support from the city’s top brass “a tangible demonstration that Hong Kong is back.”
“People who have flown to Hong Kong – global CEOs of insurance companies, private equity firms, banks and others – demonstrate that Hong Kong is a very important international financial center,” said- he declared.
“We have been closed for too long,” he added, noting that some restrictions remain, including border controls with mainland China. “But as we progress, at least we are opening up internationally,” Paredes said. “We are hopeful.”