Visits to Britain and the United States will be made by Hong Kong ministers in the next two months, the first top-level trips to the West in more than three years, despite geopolitical tensions, the Post has learned.
Sources revealed Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui Ching-yu would visit Britain in April and Algernon Yau Ying-wah, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, would head to Detroit in the United States in May for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) ministerial meeting.
But one source confirmed that Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu had no immediate plans to visit European countries or the United States.
Government insiders said the next destination for the city leader was mainland China’s Hainan province for the Boao Forum for Asia conference from March 28 to 31.
He will also make trips to several cities in the Greater Bay Area – a huge economic zone including Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong – next month.
Lee’s planned trip to Asean countries, organised by the Trade Development Council, will happen in the second half of the year.
Analysts said overseas trips were “a must” after the city government was tasked by Beijing with the promotion of Hong Kong and China to the world.
The trips are also in line with China’s call to strengthen economic ties with developed economies and attract more foreign investment.
The two visits by Hui and Yau were revealed as Hong Kong mounted a major drive to rebuild business ties after pandemic restrictions that severely affected the city for three years were lifted.
The government is also trying to attract top talent and tourists back to help revive the battered economy.
Sources said Hui is to meet officials and business representatives in the UK in a bid to promote the city’s as a major centre in the financial industry.
Hui’s office told the Post the minister would also visit the Greater Bay Area, Southeast Asian countries and Europe this year and that details would be announced later.
Yau will head to the largest city in the US state of Michigan and spend “a few days” at Apec’s two week ministerial-level trade meetings, expected to start on May 14, a government insider said.
It will be the first time the United States has hosted an Apec meeting since 2011.
The US Department of State said the second cluster of senior officials’ meetings will also include the annual ministers responsible for trade (MRT) gathering and other ministerial-level engagements.
Lee earlier told the media that he “hopes to attend in person” for the Apec leaders’ meetings scheduled for November in San Francisco to highlight Hong Kong to an influential international audience.
But the insiders said nothing had been confirmed so far and admitted the need to consider geopolitical tensions at the time would be a factor.
The city’s Trade Development Council will also organise “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” exhibitions and symposia in Bangkok in July and Paris in September.
An insider said city officials were also likely to attend the two gatherings, but names were still to be confirmed.
Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, a senior lecturer in journalism at Baptist University, said the officials’ overseas visits were designed “to carry out a national mission”.
“Hong Kong’s international status and its links to the mainland have been repeatedly emphasised in state leaders’ speeches in recent years. So the city is tasked with the mission to tell the world the good stories of the country,” he said.
Lui said Lee should also visit the UK and US, but strained international relations might cause problems.
“If there is no sanction against him, he should definitely go. But, given the current rising geopolitical tensions in particular between China and the US, I foresee the feasibility of that is low,” he explained.
Political observer James Sung Lap-kung said it was “politically correct” for the officials to make the overseas trips.
“It has been the central government’s consistent call for closer economic ties with the US and Europe. So the Hong Kong government officials should all go out to woo business and engage more in economic talks with the West,” Sung said.
Tam Yiu-chung, the vice-president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said normal international trade and economic exchanges should go on as business should not be suspended.
The last time ministers went to the US and UK was in 2019, when Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po travelled to America and Edward Yau Tang-wah, then the commerce secretary, made trips to both countries in May, June and September that year.
UK and US relations with China soured after Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 after months of anti-government protests the year before.
Former Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was also put on a sanctions list along with Lee and other officials by Washington.
The move caused Lam to declare she would cancel her US visa, which was due to expire in 2026.