Hong Kong leader John Lee’s apparent decision to turn down a invitation and sit out the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in San Francisco last week came amid a flailing economy, both in Hong Kong and abroad.
The chief executive, whose absence followed a campaign to bar him from the event, is among several Hong Kong and Chinese officials to have been hit by US sanctions over their crackdown on the 2019 protests and unrest in Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, Lee announced earlier this month that he had received a personal invitation, but would be skipping the summit, which ran from November 11 to 17, over “scheduling issues.”
Attending the summit instead was finance minister Paul Chan, who has said he hopes to expand Hong Kong’s “circle of friends” in the international community and introduce American companies to Hong Kong.
In forgoing the opportunity to meet over a dozen global leaders, HKFP examines what the city’s leader did instead.
Para games and laureate forum
Lee – last Monday – welcomed Hong Kong athletes back from the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou and announced a five-year pilot program to assist them in their post-retirement career development.
Speaking at the ceremony, Lee said the Hong Kong team’s achievements at the games “reflects that the Government is on the right track” in allocating and providing resources for sports development for persons with disabilities.
Lee’s commendations came after Hong Kong’s 95-strong delegation won 47 medals – eight gold, 15 silver, and 24 bronze – at the games from October 22 and 28.
He also spoke at the 2023 Hong Kong Laureate Forum, where he said that 30 “key enterprises” are expected to expand, or set up, in Hong Kong over the coming years, and invest some US$4 billion in the city.
A similar announcement was made early last month, when finance chief Chan said some 80 per cent of those 30 enterprises were registered in mainland China.
At the forum, which was attended by 20 laureates and 200 young scientists from around the world, Lee said Hong Kong would “continue to be a world-class collaboration hub for inspirational minds.”
“This development … is set to revolutionise our industry structure and firmly establish [innovation and technology] as a key driver of the economy. This, in turn, will form a sustainable science and innovation ecosystem for our next generation,” he told attendees at the forum.
Community visits and milk tea speech
As Chinese president Xi Jinping touched down in San Francisco last week, Lee – last Wednesday – visited after-school care centres and a child carer during his first community visit since he delivered his second policy address on October 25.
Along with labour and welfare chief Chris Sun, and home and youth affairs minister Alice Mak, Lee visited an after-school centre at Tsz Lok Estate in Wong Tai Sin, where parents told the chief executive that the centre’s services had been under pressure, according to a government statement.
The next stop for Lee was Shun Lee Estate in Kwun Tong, where he inspected plans for a mass transit system in East Kowloon proposed in last year’s policy address. He also handed out pamphlets about the upcoming District Council race and encouraged residents to cast their votes next month.
Lee also delivered a pre-recorded speech for the 2023 National & Greater Bay Area Golden Hong Kong-style Milk Tea Competition, and officiated over a stone laying ceremony for the Jockey Club Food Production Centre, a food rescue and production facility for charitable food assistance.
Speaking at a Chinese General Chamber of Commerce forum on Thursday, Lee said Hong Kong has been actively promoting investment and merchants in exploring more opportunities in the Greater Bay Area. Officials were in talks with Guangdong authorities, he added, on how to invest the HK$5 billion GBA Investment Fund set up last year.
While Xi exchanged words with finance minister Chan in San Francisco, Lee attended a lunch gathering last Friday with Hong Kong lawmakers at the Legislative Council, along with Executive Council members and senior government officials.
Lee did not give a speech at the lunch, which was held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the council’s formation in 1998.
It has been a tradition for the legislature to host two lunches with top officials annually – a spring event in February and another in November. The lunch gatherings resumed this year following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, Chan attended a meeting with leaders including US President Joe Biden, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Speaking to reporters, Chan said APEC representatives believed global economic growth would be even slower next year, and that it may take two to three years for many countries to return to their pre-pandemic growth trajectory.
Writing in a blog post, Chan said he took the opportunity to brief Xi on Hong Kong’s talent and enterprise drive. “On attracting strategic enterprises, I mentioned four areas on which we focus, namely artificial intelligence and big data analytics; biotech, biomedicine and health science; fintech; and new materials, new energy and advanced manufacturing,” he wrote in Chinese.
Fight Crime Conference
Lee, on Saturday, told the Fight Crime Conference that Hong Kong must remain vigilant against people with “ulterior motives” and foreign forces attempting to “sow discord” in the city.
“We should object and refute any ill-intentioned smear campaigns [against Hong Kong],” he told the forum organised by the government’s Fight Crime Committee, also warning that violent protests seen in 2019 could see a resurgence “at any time.”
Lee told the anti-crime conference that Beijing’s passing of the national security law had returned Hong Kong “to the centre of the international stage,” and had created a stable environment to attract global investors.
He also said the city needed to legislate Article 23, the city’s own national security law, by next year, to be integrated with the Beijing-imposed law.
Article 23 would prohibit seven types of offences: treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government, theft of state secrets, foreign bodies’ conducting political activities in the city, and local bodies establishing ties with foreign bodies.
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