China asks foreign business leaders how to revive Hong Kong in rare move

(Bloomberg) – China asked foreign chambers of commerce in Hong Kong how to revive the isolated financial hub’s economy in unprecedented listening sessions weeks before new leader John Lee took office, according to multiple people. close to the file.

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The Liaison Office, Beijing’s main body overseeing Hong Kong, sent out invitations to commerce officials across the city in early June asking for their views on challenges related to operations in Hong Kong and mainland China, officials said. the people. They said chambers responded with one overriding message: end quarantine as soon as possible.

The people, who represent different chambers, said the meetings marked a major departure from previous exchanges in which officials spoke through translators, with the Chinese side appearing to show a genuine interest in understanding the weak points of the parties. foreign companies.

Mainland officials present mostly listened while other staff took notes, the people said, making it unclear whether Beijing will act on any of the suggestions. A person who attended one of the meetings said it was conducted in English, lasted 90 minutes and included Wang Danfeng, a key member of the economic department.

The invitations included five questions, including one asking for “suggestions” or “advice” on how the Hong Kong government could improve the local business environment and others focused on operations in mainland China, according to an e-mail. email seen by Bloomberg News.

The liaison office did not respond to a request for comment.

The listening campaign took place weeks before Lee took office on July 1 and reflects China’s growing concern about poor economic data on both sides of the border.

Lee inherits a financial hub that has been internationally isolated due to Hong Kong’s inability to open up to the world, in part due to mainland pressure to avoid venturing too far from politics. President Xi Jinping’s strict Covid Zero on the mainland. Hong Kong’s economy shrank 4% in the first quarter, one of its worst performances in 30 years, and saw an outpouring of expatriate talent in places like Singapore.

China’s strict Covid Zero policy, which uses mass testing and lockdowns, has also punished the mainland’s economy. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gave a stern warning at an emergency meeting last month that the country’s economic growth is drifting further and further away from the 5.5% growth target amid strong pressure from pandemic measures.

While China shows no signs of deviating from its pandemic policy anytime soon, Hong Kong has moved away from Covid Zero in recent months. Authorities reduced the quarantine of incoming hotels from 21 to seven days for vaccinated arrivals and resisted the imposition of harsh social restrictions despite a rebound in cases topping some 1,000 daily infections.

In his first public comments on his pandemic policy, Lee this week vowed to try to reduce inconvenience to travelers while adding that he should do so “without bringing additional risk to the mainland”. His government will “review” mandatory quarantine measures for incoming travellers, he said, and has suggested reducing its duration or introducing home isolation.

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