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“Hong Kong’s strengths as an international financial centre linking the Mainland and the rest of the world are primed to proliferate”, according to John Lee, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, at the Asia Financial Forum last week. It was my first visit to Hong Kong for almost exactly three years and, as I touched down at the international airport, I was wondering what changes I would notice.
Prior to visiting Hong Kong, I spent three days in Singapore. The city state has been an undoubted beneficiary not only of Hong Kong’s draconian quarantine policy during the Covid years but also of a wider geopolitical split with mainland China, particularly as relations with the US and the West have cooled over worries about a potential invasion of Taiwan and uncertainty as to where China really stands in relation to events in Ukraine. A visit to 67 Pall Mall, the Singapore version of the exclusive London wine club, left little doubt that the number of mainland Chinese guests has increased. Singapore has benefitted from an influx of private money from China and an influx of western talent in the form of lawyers, bankers, asset managers and service providers escaping the Hong Kong lockdown. But the former may be longer lasting than the latter.
In Hong Kong itself there is marked change of mood, certainly among the financial community, lawyers and service providers where a significant sense of optimism prevails about the year ahead. With Covid restrictions substantially removed, visitors are once again returning. I hear that there are even indications from the relocation agents that some kind of reverse of the exodus to Singapore might be beginning. Whether Hong Kong can navigate the tricky ground between being an international financial centre, whilst at the same time being increasingly aligned to other cities in mainland China, only time will tell. But as it prepares to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit it does so with an excitement not seen for a number of years.
After four days, it was hard to pin down what had really changed. The streets, shopping malls and restaurants were full and both the Hong Kong Club and Lan Kwai Fong seemed much the same as ever. Indeed, the only real discernible difference was that the price of a tram ride had gone up to three dollars…
‘View from the Chair’ is Bovill’s regular column from our Executive Chair Ben Blackett-Ord who founded the firm in 1999 and led it as CEO until 2022. Ben continues to support Bovill’s executive team and clients, as well as being a prominent figure in the industry.