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After almost three years of isolation from the world with strict COVID measures, sweeping social unrest and an exodus of companies and residents, Hong Kong has been hoping to make a comeback as an international finance hub by hosting a three-day banking summit for over 200 global finance leaders. The city is facing a talent crunch and the shift of business to other countries like Singapore after Hong Kong’s delay in reopening, and the mainland’s political tensions and zero-COVID stance. Many Wall Street CEOs are among the attendees, including Goldman Sachs’s David Solomon, Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman, HSBC’s Noel Quinn and Standard Chartered’s Bill Winters.
Now, at least five top executives are dropping out of the summit, including Blackstone President Jonathan Gray and Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser, who both got COVID. The number of execs pulling out is increasing, and a worsening tropical storm isn’t making the situation any better.
Some drama also arose in the backdrop. Two US politicians, Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressman Jim McGovern, urged Wall Street to call off their attendance, pointing to human rights abuse by the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.
“Foreign banks are still keen to do business or explore opportunities in mainland China and Hong Kong,” said Lloyd Chan, senior economist at Oxford Economics. “However, banks will still have to grapple with a business environment that continues to be uncertain and challenging, as strained relations between US and China imply economic and financial risks, which they have to be watchful of.”
“Their presence only serves to legitimize the swift dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy, free press, and the rule of law by Hong Kong authorities acting along with the Chinese Communist Party,” wrote McGovern in a tweet, calling on bank leaders to cancel their visit to Hong Kong .
“The Hong Kong government’s overarching goal is clear: to establish the narrative that the city has reopened,” said Chris Beddor, Gavekal Dragonomics’ deputy China research director.
“It’s just a small number … What we have seen now is that more than 200 people will attend and that is within our expectation,” said Hong Kong leader John Lee in response to the absence of three bankers.
“This shows the US and other Western countries are using all extreme means to suppress China, including Hong Kong,” said Hong Kong Chief Secretary Eric Chan to the US politicians’ comments. “We are just organising an ordinary financial summit, but they link it to human rights and freedom of speech … They just hope the event will fail, and we must stay vigilant.”