Hong Kong leader John Lee sought to drum up confidence in the city’s future as a global financial hub on Wednesday, as he welcomed some of Wall Street’s top executives to its biggest international event in years.
Speaking at a widely anticipated investment summit, with more than 200 participants from 20 countries, the city’s chief executive said that it was “opening once again” for international business after more than two and a half years of arduous pandemic restrictions.
Lee called the conference the “Hong Kong-on-stage-again summit” or “the back-to-business stage.”
As he addressed some of the executives in attendance, including Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, UBS chairman Colm Kelleher and HSBC CEO Noel Quinn, the government leader was defiant in reaffirming his intention to keep the former British colony competitive for overall financial.
“We were, we are and we will remain one of the world’s leading financial centers,” Lee vowed. “You can take that to the bank.”
Lee also sought to reassure executives that Hong Kong would maintain its role as an international hub distinguished from mainland China, saying that central government officials had outlined their support for the city retaining its unique position as a gateway between East and West.
China’s latest five-year plan includes goals to reinforce the city’s role as an international trade, financial, shipping and aviation center, Lee said. “The worst is behind us.”
Solomon, Gorman and Kelleher, who took to the stage for a panel shortly after Lee’s remarks, did not comment directly on the city’s reopening. But Kelleher noted that “whilst we’re all very pro-China,” the bank was “waiting for zero-Covid to open up in China and see what will happen.”
In September, Hong Kong lifted quarantine requirements that had largely isolated the former British colony, choked economic activity, and fueled a historic brain drain. Mainland China, however, still has a mandate in place for most inbound travelers to self-isolate for at least seven days, under its stringent “zero-Covid policy.”