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Hong Kong wins over Wall Street CEOs after lifting strict Covid rules

<i>Dale De La Rey/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Hong Kong has finally secured commitments from some of the world's biggest banks to participate in a long-awaited summit
Dale De La Rey/AFP/Getty Images
Hong Kong has finally secured commitments from some of the world's biggest banks to participate in a long-awaited summit

By Michelle Toh, CNN Business

Hong Kong has finally secured commitments from some of the world’s biggest banks to participate in a long-awaited summit, as it seeks to reaffirm its status as a global financial hub.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) announced Thursday that it would welcome executives including Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters, and HSBC CEO Noel Quinn to the city in November.

Top executives from UBS, BlackRock, Blackstone and JPMorgan are also on the program, which starts November 2 and includes some 200 attendees.

The confirmation comes just days after the city’s government lifted some of the planet’s strictest Covid quarantine rules after two and a half years.

Now, instead of having to isolate in a designated hotel room at their own expense for three nights, business travelers and tourists can base themselves at accommodation of their choosing, as long as they monitor their health for three days, including by taking rapid Covid tests.

Under the current rules, travelers are free to move around, although they may not be allowed into restaurants or bars during the first three days of their stay.

The summit was announced by Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan in February.

But for several months, there was little news about its agenda, prompting speculation that high-flying bankers were reluctant to commit to the event if it required them to spend time in mandatory quarantine.

Hong Kong’s government has given out special exemptions in the past. Last year, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was allowed to visit the city without such restrictions when he flew to meet the bank’s regional chief and local staff.

However, the quarantine-free arrival of a wealthy outsider sparked public anger at a time when most inbound travelers were required to isolate in hotels at their own expense for up to 21 days.

The backlash reached such heights that it forced Hong Kong’s then leader, Carrie Lam, to defend Dimon’s special dispensation, saying it was in the interest of “Hong Kong’s economy.”

As with many people, it’s inconvenient for executives to travel to Hong Kong “when things aren’t actually open,” a person working in the city’s finance industry told CNN Business. They requested anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

If anyone were to request a similar exemption to Dimon’s, it would be “very problematic to have two sets of standards — particularly when Hong Kong residents have stepped up over the last two years,” the person added.

Hong Kong is the base for JPMorgan’s Asia Pacific headquarters, as well as those of many other financial firms.

But it has been hobbled in the last two years by its strict “zero Covid” policy, leading the international business community to warn of severe economic damage and a mass exodus of talent to rival cities such as Singapore.

The strict rules have also led to the relentless questioning of executives such as HSBC’s Quinn, who was repeatedly asked on recent earnings calls whether he felt Hong Kong was still a strong banking hub.

Now, the conference will be an important part of the city’s efforts to show that it’s truly reopened for global business.

In a statement Thursday, HKMA chief Eddie Yue said that summit delegates would discuss rising interest rate hikes and global inflation, among other topics.

“I am most grateful to our friends who are traveling to attend the summit at a time when some anti-epidemic controls remain in place,” he said, noting that “the latest relaxation of some of the control measures is helpful.”

“We need to make sure they can meet people, do business and build relationships in the kind of business-as-usual way they expect from a vibrant international city,” Yue added.

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