THE Hongkong Futures Exchange is following a double-tracked strategy to bolster the territory's position as a regional financial centre. The long-anticipated introduction of index futures options on March 5 will provide investors with a key tool for playing the market. Behind the scenes, however, the futures exchange is discussing possible co-operation with counterparts in China. ''A lot of institutional investors want to invest in China and they look at Hongkong-listed companies. By providing Hang Seng Index futures and options, this would provide them with a good opportunity in risk management,'' said futures exchange chairman Mr Leong Ka-chai. ''On the China side, we are active but still not that visible,'' he said. ''We have been discussing many projects at the moment with various future exchanges in China.'' Mr Leong said the exchange held talks with the metal exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as the grain exchange in Hunan and the energy exchange in Nanjing. Preliminary discussions have been held on how best to provide technical assistance in three broad areas, but Mr Leong said it was premature to disclose specific projects. The most likely area to be discussed is risk management, he said. ''We have a very good risk management system, and our chief executive knows risk management inside out.'' A second subject relates to the structure and organisation of the futures exchange itself. A third area may concern how mainland exchanges could market new products to international investors. ''There is tremendous potential in that market,'' he said. Mr Leong said increasing numbers of international firms had joined the exchange in order to participate in what could prove to be a major growth industry. ''This is a very important development. It adds a new dimension to financial products here. I am not going to give figures as to how much it will increase turnover,'' he said. ''But volumes will go up, as the whole environment in Hongkong is changing.'' Some brokers said turnover on the futures exchange could more than double, as international investors use futures for leverage and hedging. Mr Leong said the introduction of auto-matching by the Hongkong Stock Exchange, as well as short-selling of stocks later this year, would also help boost turnover. The dollar value of turnover on the futures exchange already exceeds the value of the underlying physical index. Turnover on February 1 was 4,330 contracts, with a value 19 per cent above the 33 constituent stocks on the Hang Seng Index. That represents a remarkable comeback since 1989, when Mr Leong was first elected as a director of the exchange. At that time, turnover on the futures market was less than one-fifth the value of the underlying stocks. Mr Leong is the first chairman of the futures exchange elected from among its membership. He brings a strong measure of prudence and knowledge of risk management that stems from more than a decade of actively trading shares and futures. His firm, Rotec Securities, was one of the few firms to have short the market ahead of the October 1987 crash. Prior to the crash, Rotec had implemented new measures to tighten back office controls and take a more cautious stance toward the market. Mr Leong said his decision to join the mangement of the exchange was due to a strong desire to help the futures market recover after the 1987 crash. ''I looked back and felt it was a pity that everyone blamed the futures exchange for the 1987 crash. For Hongkong to be a financial centre we ought to have a futures exchange. I believe that as international financial centre, Hongkong really needs a derivative product exchange.'' Mr Leong said the most important step in risk management was for the futures exchange to own its own clearing house, setting risk levels without a conflict of interest. Margin requirements are now calculated on a gross margin basis rather than net margin, as was the case before the crash, he said. On a net margin basis, a futures dealer could use margins from one client to lend to another client. Meanwhile, he said that in contrast to past years, the exchange would be in the black for the year to May 1993. ''For 1992, we will be getting back to a profitable situation.''