Hong Kong needs to open to world to retain hub status: Carrie Lam

Outgoing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that border controls have undermined Hong Kong's status as a hub. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Outgoing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the city cannot function as a global financial hub if quarantine controls remain, adding pressure on the next administration to relax border curbs.

“The border control measures have really made people very impatient,” Mrs Lam said on Friday (June 10) in an interview with CNBC business news channel.

“Of course, they’ve undermined Hong Kong’s status as a hub. If you cannot travel freely to other places and into the mainland, how could you be a hub?” she said.

While Hong Kong lifted a ban on non-residents in May, provided that they are fully vaccinated, all international arrivals are still subject to seven-day hotel quarantine.

Such measures, which look strict compared with the rest of the world, are hastening the departure of thousands of residents and sparking questions about Hong Kong’s future as finance centre.

Mrs Lam said easing border curbs would bolster Hong Kong’s international reputation, fuelling speculation that such moves could be on the horizon.

“Once we could bring down the hotel quarantine period or, as some have suggested, replace it with home quarantine measures, I’m sure we will be seeing a lot of people coming to Hong Kong,” she said.

Hong Kong has drifted from President Xi Jinping’s strict Covid-Zero policy of eliminating the virus in recent months.

The city has resisted tightening curbs even as it clocks over 600 daily infections, with Mrs  Lam saying that cases are not worrying as most are mild and the vaccination rate is rising. 

That difference in their views has cast doubt over whether Mr Xi will visit the city at the end of the month for the first time in five years to celebrate 25 years since the return to Chinese rule.

The divergence of Covid-19 policies has made it impossible to reopen the city’s China border for the foreseeable future, Mrs Lam said at a Legislative Council meeting on Thursday.

Mrs  Lam will leave office on June 30, after a term that has seen unprecedented anti-government street protests, Beijing impose a national security law that was decried by the United States and Britain for curbing democratic freedoms, and scores of journalists, opposition politicians and activists locked up for speech crimes.

Mrs Lam denied in the CNBC interview that the city had become less free under her watch. She said she planned to advise her successor, Mr John Lee, to invite international journalists, politicians and think-tank officials to Hong Kong, once quarantine rules have been relaxed, in a bid to revive its reputation.

“People think there’s no freedom but it’s not the situation,” she said. “Hong Kong is as free as ever.”

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