Hong Kong's 'strong foundation' will sustain it through the financial crisis, but how it fares as a financial centre depends on how well it maintains its traditional openness, according to former British prime minister Tony Blair. Mr Blair said yesterday that while Hong Kong faced the same tough situation as Britain, the city had an edge over the rest of the world with its stable fiscal system and robust banks. 'I think Hong Kong has two big advantages. You've got a strong fiscal position, and your banks are strong,' he said. 'That gives you two advantages over the rest of the world at the moment.' In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Mr Blair also said he thought the mainland was moving in the right direction on human rights. Mr Blair was in town for a two-day private visit, during which he met Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen on Wednesday to discuss the state of the international economy. Amid fears that Hong Kong is under threat of being overtaken by Shanghai as an international financial centre under the central government's plan to groom it as one, Mr Tsang has been looking to London and New York as models for ways to stay on top. Mr Blair said that with its strong foundation, Hong Kong would survive the current crisis. But beating competition and keeping its role as a financial centre would depend on whether the city could keep its traditional openness. 'The main thing is to stay very much as an open part of the world economy, to make sure it is an attractive place for people to come to, and to realise in the end it is the dynamism here and the creativity that will see people through,' Mr Blair said. He praised the chief executive for 'doing a very good job in the tough situation', and said he had told Mr Tsang to expect criticism from the public during the economic crisis. 'The thing for leaders at the moment is to stand up and lead, not to seek to be popular, because that's not going to be easy. But make sure you stick by what you believe and do it.' Mr Blair said a common challenge for all governments was the need to introduce reform not only in the private but in the public sector. He said the priority for policymakers obviously was to get through the financial crisis. But the bigger, long-term question was how reshape the welfare and public-service systems. While he hoped the tough times would pass by the end of the year, with recovery starting next year, much would depend on the policies of Europe and the US, and America's relations with China, he said. The key role China had taken in the Group of 20 Summit this month indicated that 'everybody understands China is here to stay as a major power' in the international economic framework, Mr Blair said. 'If the west is sensible, it will see the importance of the strategic partnership with China - not view it as a threat, but an opportunity as a partner.' Despite criticism by western countries that the mainland had a poor human rights record, he said the situation had improved and Beijing was moving in the 'right direction'. Before heading to Beijing last night, Mr Blair, who has taken up several roles internationally after stepping down as British leader in June 2007, said Hong Kong had a special place in his memories. 'Hong Kong is always for me a special and magical place,' he said, recalling the handover ceremony in 1997, amid pouring rain, just after he began his first term as prime minister. 'Being there at that time in the moment of history is fantastic.'