By ZEN SOO – Associated Press
HONG KONG (AP) — Chinese regulators have played down China’s housing slump and slowing economic growth, while Hong Kong’s top leader touted Hong Kong as a unique link to the rest of China at a high-level investment summit on Wednesday.
About 200 global financial leaders gathered to network and discuss issues including global risks and sustainable finance at Hong Kong’s first major conference since the city lifted COVID-19 quarantine restrictions.
Fang Xinghai, vice chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, urged participants to visit China to understand what is happening in the country and urged them not to “bet against” China and Hong Kong. .
The international media “doesn’t really understand China very well” and takes a “short-sighted view”, he said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
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Fang and other Chinese officials addressed the conference in pre-recorded interviews – travel to and from mainland China is restricted by strict quarantine requirements.
China’s central bank governor Yi Gang said inflation remained subdued, at under 3% compared to 8% or more in many Western economies, and the country’s economic and reform policies would continue. Such comments appeared to be aimed at countering concerns that erupted following a Communist Party congress last month, where leader Xi Jinping was awarded an unprecedented third five-year term and key reformers were excluded from the top leadership of the ruling party.
“China has a very big market, because there is still a lot of room for urbanization, and the demand from middle-class consumers is still rising,” Yi said.
China’s economy grew at an annual rate of 3.9% in the latest quarter from a year earlier, well below the official target of more than 5%, and the vital real estate sector languished as Regulators have sought to stem the rise in debt to unsustainable levels.
Xiao Yuanqi, vice chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, sought to reassure conference attendees, saying home loans accounted for only 26% of total bank loans and 90% of home loans. were of “good quality”.
Shares in Hong Kong and Shanghai surged on Wednesday, with the Hang Seng gaining 2.6% while the Shanghai Composite Index climbed 1.7%.
The list of speakers at the Hong Kong conference includes Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, as well as other leaders from institutions such as Citigroup and Blackstone.
It is designed to highlight the role of the former British colony as an attractive and competitive financial centre.
The city remains the “only place in the world where the global advantage and the Chinese advantage come together in one city,” Hong Kong chief executive John Lee said when opening the event.
“This unique convergence makes Hong Kong the irreplaceable link between the mainland and the rest of the world as the world’s economic center of gravity shifts eastward,” he said.
The British ceded control of Hong Kong to China in 1997 on the understanding that Beijing would grant the tiny territory autonomy in its legal system and economic policies for at least 50 years. In recent years, Beijing has extended its influence. Those efforts gained momentum after mass protests in 2019 demanding a more democratic leadership system, culminating in the implementation of a security law designed to stifle dissent.
Combined with strict quarantine controls and a sharp drop in tourism, this has worsened the economic impact of the pandemic.
Lee said “the worst is behind” Hong Kong. A former security chief, he told the conference that “law and order have returned” and that social unrest was a thing of the past.
Organizers went ahead with the long-planned conference despite tropical storm warnings that led authorities to close schools.
As Tropical Storm Nalgae approached the city, the Hong Kong Observatory said it would raise its T8 signal in the afternoon, effectively shutting down the city and halting stock market trading.
Hong Kong pulled out all the stops for the financial conference, adjusting COVID-19 restrictions to allow attendees to dine at specific restaurants. Most other inbound travelers are prohibited from doing so for three days after arriving in the city.
Participants who test positive for COVID-19 are allowed to depart by chartered flights if they wish, instead of having to be isolated for at least seven days in Hong Kong.
Some U.S. lawmakers have urged U.S. companies not to attend the meeting due to tensions with China over trade and human rights. The United States has spoken out on Hong Kong’s crackdown on dissent after the implementation of the national security law.
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