A top United States official has concluded a three-day visit to Hong Kong, making him the highest-ranking representative from the Treasury Department to visit the city in years and signalling what analysts called both sides’ keenness to ease tensions in the bilateral relationship.
The US Treasury Department told the Post on Friday that Assistant Secretary for International Finance Brent Neiman was in Hong Kong for a three-day visit and left the city on Friday, building on US President Joe Biden’s “direction to deepen ties between the world’s two largest economies”, the United States and China.
The trip also built on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s visit to China in July, the department said.
According to a source, Neiman gave a talk at the University of Chicago’s Hong Kong campus and attended a reception at the US consulate on Friday. He met city financial and Hong Kong Monetary Authority officials. He also met American business leaders in the city.
However, earlier this month there were signs of a thaw in relations when Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, who was not among officials sanctioned by Washington, revealed he would be the first senior member of Lee’s administration to visit the US to promote Hong Kong.
Asked about Neiman’s visit, a spokesman for the government said it maintained “dialogue with different groups and individuals from Hong Kong and abroad. We do not comment on individual cases”.
Chan said late on Thursday he had not met Neiman, and that his “colleagues in the government” would meet him.
It remains unclear whether Lee will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November. Washington is expected to ban Lee from attending but no final word has been issued yet.
During his trip, Neiman spoke to “government officials, policymakers, scholars, the US business community and financial leaders”, the Treasury Department said.
Topics discussed included “bilateral financial and regulatory matters as well as macroeconomic and financial developments in Hong Kong and China”.
Neiman also met students and young professionals to deepen US-Hong Kong “people-to-people ties”, the Treasury Department said.
Throughout his engagements Neiman stressed “the United States’ focus on securing and advancing our economic and national security interests, along with those of our allies, and protecting human rights,” the department said.
It said he was in Hong Kong from Wednesday to Friday.
A spokeswoman for the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said Neiman met its president Eden Woon Yi-teng and chairman Geoffrey Siebengartner as well as other business leaders in the city.
“The chamber supports exchanges between Hong Kong and the US and is very happy with the recent spate of visitors to Hong Kong from the US, many of whom met with AmCham members,” she said.
“We hope more can take place in the future to further understanding.”
Lau Siu-kai, a consultant at the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies think tank, said the visit signalled a desire by the US to improve relations with Hong Kong.
“The United States has been very hostile to Hong Kong. They have been imposing sanctions on Hong Kong officials, including Chief Executive John Lee, so it’s beneficial for our communication and easing of ties,” he said.
Lau added the visit showed the importance Washington attached to Hong Kong as an international financial centre, as the city played a vital role in maintaining the status of the US dollar as an international currency.
But Neiman’s visit did not necessarily imply US relations with China would improve, as any changes would require higher-ranked American officials to visit the country, he argued.
A number of top US officials have made trips to Beijing recently. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited in June, after the trip was delayed in February owing to the controversy over a Chinese spy balloon that crossed into American territory.
Yellen, climate envoy John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo have also made trips to Beijing.
Back in 2019, at the height of anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong, at least three US senators visited the city, including Republican Ted Cruz, who was among those expressing solidarity with the protesters.