Hong Kong's Lee touts 'China advantage'

Hong Kong leader John Lee has pitched the city's connection with China in an address to some of the world's top financial executives, as he strives to rebuild the Chinese territory's COVID-hit image as a major financial hub.

Chief Executive Lee told the Hong Kong Monetary Authority's Global Financial Leaders' Investment Summit on Wednesday that the city would continue working towards lifting COVID restrictions.

The conference is the biggest corporate event in the city since Hong Kong shut its borders in 2020 and put in place rolling restrictions to combat COVID-19. Those measures have badly hit its economy and have resulted in exodus of talent.

Some of the world's biggest banking bosses, including Goldman Sachs' David Solomon and Morgan Stanley's James Gorman, are in Hong Kong for the first time in almost three years for the summit.

For foreign financial firms operating in China and Hong Kong, the summit comes as they navigate tensions between the United States and China while a depleting pool of talent in what is touted as "Asia's world city" is creating a major challenge.

"Hong Kong remains the only place in the world where the global advantage and the China advantage come together in a single city," Lee told roughly 250 summit participants, mostly comprising of local financial executives.

"This unique convergence makes Hong Kong the irreplaceable connection between the mainland and the rest of the world."

Eddie Yue, chief executive of the city's de-facto central bank Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), said the reopening of Hong Kong brings exciting growth opportunities to talents and financial institutions around the world.

"And more importantly, Hong Kong will continue to the wider global agenda of stability, growth, and sustainability."

Besides stringent COVID restrictions, Hong Kong's outlook as a premier financial centre has also been clouded by anti-government protests in 2019 and the imposition of a sweeping national security law a year later.

Lee said that Hong Kong was working to attract top talent to offset a major brain drain seen in the past three years due to the pandemic rules.

"As have many other major cities worldwide, Hong Kong has been through ups and downs over the years but our resilience remains remarkably unmatched," he told the summit.

Global financial institutions have for long betted on Hong Kong as a gateway to China, to tap into the world's second-largest economy and its trillions of dollars worth of financial markets.

Hong Kong was a 'very, very important' financial centre for China, China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) Vice Chairman Fang Xinghai told the summit.

Authorities, he said, were keen for more international companies to list in Hong Kong to grow the city's capital markets activities.

Hong Kong's new share listings are worth $US10.77 billion so far in 2022, the lowest level since 2017, compared with $US37.7 billion at the same time last year, according to Refinitiv figures.

Global investors are grappling with several challenges this year, with the Russia-Ukraine war, rising inflation, soaring energy prices and tightening interest rates all hammering risk appetite.