Global financial leaders return to Hong Kong after pandemic, political changes

3-day Global Financial Leaders' Investment Summit begins, with Chief Executive Lee describing Hong Kong as 'unique, irreplaceable' for global, Chinese advantages.

Global financial leaders return to Hong Kong after pandemic, political changes

Global financial leaders are meeting in Hong Kong, once the world's top financial center before losing it to Singapore, for a summit that began on Wednesday.

The city is seeing such activity after nearly three years of strict restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 during the pandemic, while the semi-autonomous region has also undergone radical political changes in the aftermath of 2019 anti-government protests.

“Opportunity and timing are right here, right now in Hong Kong. This is the moment you have been waiting for. Go for it, get in front, not behind,” Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said in his keynote speech, a video of which is available on the official website.

About 200 guests from around 120 global financial institutions are attending the three-day Global Financial Leaders' Investment Summit hosted by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, according to Hong Kong's public broadcaster RTHK.

Lee described the semi-autonomous region as “unique and irreplaceable” since it combines both global as well as China advantages to meet in a single city.

“Hong Kong reaped the benefits from both the East and the West,” said Lee, who was appointed as the top official of the region by China’s President Xi Jinping on July 1 this year.

“As the center of economic gravity in the world shifts eastward, the mainland along with fast-growing economies throughout the region will be a major engine of global growth, and an abundant source of economic opportunities,” Lee said.

“Hong Kong always bounces back, better than ever… We have full confidence in its tenacity and its future. We are already seeing (an) encouraging rebound,” he added.

The British occupied Hong Kong until July 1, 1997, when it was handed back to Beijing under the so-called "one country, two systems" Joint Declaration.

Hong Kong, under the semi-autonomous status within the Chinese system, rose to become the world’s freest economy but saw mass anti-government demonstrations triggered by the now-banned extradition bill in 2019.

Since then, Beijing has cemented its rule over the city of over 7.7 million people after it imposed the controversial national security law in 2020 and radically reformed the election system for the region’s Legislative Council – much to the chagrin of the Western nations, which have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials as a result of the move.

Economic data makes it, however, evident that more Chinese money and firms have seeped into the city with unprecedented development activities powered by Chinese investments.

Data from China’s Ministry of Commerce reveals that the trade between Beijing and Hong Kong soared from $50.77 billion to $360.33 billion between 1997 and 2021 with annual growth of 8.5%.

China’s focus on connectivity saw travel time between Beijing and Hong Kong reduced to nine hours through high-speed train, down from 24 hours 25 years ago.

Singapore, however, surpassed Hong Kong in September of this year to become Asia’s top financial center.

Fang Xinghai, vice chair of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, told the summit that China will "remain the main driver of global economic growth."

"We want to share our growth with international partners. That is our vision," he said, adding that China's opening up policy has a "very firm" foundation.

State-run Chinese daily Global Times in an editorial published on Wednesday stated that Hong Kong is “sending a strong signal to the world that it is opening its doors for business.”

“Pearl of the Orient has once again opened its arms to welcome new and old friends,” said the editorial, accusing unidentified US politicians of “disrupting” normal exchanges in the financial sector with “pan-politicization,” which are “unpopular.”

“A few US lawmakers cannot stop international financial institutions and multinational companies from investing in Hong Kong out of their own interests, nor can they shake their overall positive judgment on Hong Kong from a professional perspective,” it added.