Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam talks up Saudi Arabia as trade partner in ‘Belt and Road’ push

Fresh from meeting with the king, leader says city’s financial services sector could be of use to Saudi business

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 3:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 9:15pm

Hong Kong’s leader said Saudi Arabia could be a valuable export market for the city’s professional and financial services, as she vowed on Tuesday to continue her overseas trips promoting Hong Kong and exploring business opportunities.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor spoke a day after returning from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh with Hong Kong’s financial services minister and the heads of the Hong Kong stock exchange.

During her visit, Lam met King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia’s ministers of energy and finance.

Lam and other officials met Khalid Abdul Aziz al-Falih, who is both an energy minister and chairman of Saudi Aramco, a state-owned oil conglomerate which stock exchange chiefs from Hong Kong and other major global exchanges are thought to have courted for a listing.

“Saudi Arabia is an important country in the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’,” Lam said, referring to the central government’s plan to boost trade along two historic routes leading westwards from China.

“I can see that Hong Kong’s professional services, and especially our financial services, can play a role in many aspects of [Saudi Arabia’s development plans].”

Lam said she intended to continue visiting foreign countries to boost their ties with the city.

“I attach much importance to the city’s external affairs and broadening its markets … I have started to plan my overseas trips for 2018 because these trips are very important for boosting Hong Kong’s international status and promoting our commerce, trade, and professional sectors,” she said.

Since taking office in July, Lam has visited countries including Britain, Thailand and Singapore. She is scheduled to visit Beijing for her maiden duty visit next week.

By contrast her predecessor Leung Chun-ying concentrated on visiting mainland Chinese provinces and cities during his first months in office.

Lawmaker Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, who represents the financial services sector in the city’s legislature, said it was good for Lam to take a different approach to Leung’s.

“When Leung took office in 2012, the Belt and Road Initiative was not a hot issue. I think that is the reason why the two chief executives’ strategies are different,” he said.

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Cheung also said Lam’s meeting with the Saudi Arabian king was “a significant sign” the Middle Eastern kingdom was interested in investing in Hong Kong, and that Lam had Beijing’s strong backing.

“We hope that Saudi Arabian oil conglomerates can be listed on Hong Kong’s stock exchange, and invest in our market, especially in bonds,” he said.

Cheung said Hong Kong was facing strong competition from the United States, which is also trying to attract investment from oil producers in the Middle East.