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The backstory: During the height of the pandemic, COVID restrictions and China's zero-COVID policy led to economic challenges in Hong Kong. And the city’s recovery since then has been slower than expected. Hong Kong’s economy contracted by 3.5% last year, and the city has seen a talent and business exodus on top of an ongoing property crisis. John Lee stepped into the role of Hong Kong’s chief executive last year, with the task of tackling the aftermath and restoring the city’s status as an international finance and business hub. This year, Hong Kong lifted COVID restrictions and opened up the border with mainland China again. But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing to get things back to normal. There's a shortage of workers, and the real estate market is still finding its footing.
The development: John Lee was just on a duty visit to Beijing from last Sunday to Wednesday to brief state leaders on Hong Kong's recent economic, social and political developments. On Monday, Lee sat beside President Xi, opposite Premier Li, with officials overseeing Hong Kong's affairs on both sides. Members of the Politburo Standing Committee, including Executive Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang and Director of the General Office of the Central Committee Cai Qi, were also present.
During this session, President Xi showed optimism about Hong Kong's future under Lee's leadership, praising him for maintaining national security and navigating the district council system effectively. Lee, in a briefing with mainland Chinese ministries, outlined Hong Kong's priorities, including a focus on attracting high-value visitors and promoting high-quality tourism development. He reported a strong recovery in tourism, with third-quarter visitors this year reaching 70% of pre-pandemic levels in 2017-2018. Hong Kong also aims to increase visitor spending in the city and leverage its role as a tourism hub and showcase for multi-destination tourism.
“The central government is persistent in maintaining One Country, Two Systems, Hong Kong’s capitalist system, lifestyle and patriots governing Hong Kong. We fully support the chief executive, especially working with the SAR government, to lead society to grasp the opportunities brought by national development and achieve related goals,” said President Xi Jinping.
“Hong Kong has the distinctive advantages of enjoying the strong support of the motherland and being closely connected to the world. In the past year, economic activities have resumed and society is generally stable. The Legislative Council has been operating rationally,” said Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee.
“Coming priorities of the Hong Kong government include attracting more high value-added overnight visitors by tapping into new source markets, stimulating visitors’ spending and promoting the high-quality development of tourism,” said Lee.