Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam praises financial hub's resilience

HK leader and financial chiefs point out stability of markets

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam and top finance officials yesterday praised the Chinese-ruled city's resilience as a global financial hub amid more than six months of often violent pro-democracy unrest.

Speaking at the opening of a regional financial forum, Mrs Lam said that Hong Kong's financial system remains stable, thanks to lessons learnt since the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

She cited the listing of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding as a boon for other listings by mainland companies.

Hong Kong's "strengths and resilience, just like our financial systems, have not been undermined despite (the fact) that we experienced considerable social unrest and challenges", she said.

Finance Secretary Paul Chan, speaking at the same event, said Hong Kong's banking system is running smoothly and has ample liquidity despite the city facing "unprecedented" turbulence.

And Hong Kong Monetary Authority's deputy chief executive Howard Lee said the strong performance of financial assets is further proof of the city's resilience.

"No matter whether it is the currency or the equity markets or infrastructure, they seem to be going through a kind of parallel universe," he said.

The Hang Seng Index yesterday climbed 1.1 per cent to 28,954.94 to close at the highest level since May 8. The Hong Kong dollar has flirted with three-year highs.

Ms Julia Leung, deputy chief executive of the Securities and Futures Commission, said that although Hong Kong markets had been "hyper stress-tested in the last six months", they "had done well".

Protests against a now-withdrawn anti-extradition Bill escalated last June and have since morphed into a broader movement seeking universal suffrage.

 
 
 
 

Some financial firms have been caught in the middle, with branches of mainland banks vandalised as protesters vented their anger at what they perceive as China's meddling in the city's affairs - an accusation denied by Beijing, which blames the West for fomenting unrest.

HSBC has also drawn the ire of some protesters who accuse it of being complicit in action by the authorities against activists trying to raise money to support their campaign. HSBC strongly denies any connection.

Hurt by a trade war between Washington and Beijing, and with protests affecting tourism and retail sales, Hong Kong's economy has fallen into recession and is relying on its finance industry to prevent a deeper downturn.

Mr Chan said the government is considering a more "competitive" tax arrangement to attract private equity funds to the city and further relief measures to prop up the economy, but he did not offer further details.

Meanwhile, China yesterday defended barring the head of Human Rights Watch from entering Hong Kong, saying non-governmental organisations were responsible for political unrest in the city and should "pay the proper price".

Mr Kenneth Roth was supposed to give a press conference in Hong Kong this week to unveil the New York-based rights group's latest global survey, which accuses China of prosecuting "an intensive attack" on international human rights agencies.

He said on Sunday that he was turned back by the authorities at the city's airport.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2020, with the headline 'Chief Exec praises financial hub's resilience'. Print Edition | Subscribe