China pushed for the surprise reappointment of Ashley Alder to keep his ‘steady hand’ at the Hong Kong SFC amid turbulent times
- China’s government proposed that Ashley Alder stay on as head of Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission in part because he’s viewed by foreign investors as a steady hand at a time of heightened economic and political turbulence, according to people familiar with the matter
- His reappointment was announced just days before China unveiled plans to impose controversial national security legislation on Hong Kong
While it’s not unusual for China’s government to give input on key Hong Kong personnel decisions, the Alder case is notable because Beijing appears to have originated the idea for his last-minute reappointment. That could add to concerns about increased Chinese meddling in Hong Kong affairs, even though Alder is considered by many market participants to be an independent and effective regulator.
His reappointment was announced just days before China unveiled plans to impose controversial national security legislation on Hong Kong. The move roiled local markets and has been criticised for undermining the city’s judicial independence, a feature that underpins its status as a hub for international companies and investors.
Hong Kong officials have in recent days been touting the benefits of greater financial integration with China, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam saying on Tuesday that the city should be “promoting greater connectivity” between the two markets. Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in a Bloomberg Television interview on June 5 that Hong Kong is ready to defend its currency’s link to the US dollar with support from the mainland.
In a statement last month on the Alder decision, Hong Kong’s government cited the need for “continuity of leadership” at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is driving up financial-market volatility. The statement didn’t say whether China played a role in the reappointment.
An SFC spokesman declined to comment. China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Lam’s office – which is responsible for approving SFC chiefs – didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Lam was elected in 2017 by a committee dominated by Beijing loyalists.
Even though Alder’s reappointment was unexpected, it makes sense for him to stay, according to Tom Kirchmaier, a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics.
“China needs Hong Kong to remain the gateway to international financial markets, and undoubtedly the events of the last weeks didn’t help to calm nerves on the international stage,” he said. “To reappoint a known and tested hand makes a lot of sense in this respect to send a signal.”
This week Alder was re-elected as chairman of the International Organisation of Securities Commissions, a group of regulators from more than 115 jurisdictions around the world.
He’s committing to another term during one of the most turbulent periods for Hong Kong since its handover from Britain in 1997. Doubts about the city’s role as an international financial hub are rising, while political tensions are likely to stay elevated in the run-up to local legislative polls in September and the US presidential election in November.
Speaking at a Bloomberg Policy Briefing Series on Thursday, Alder said his key focus will be to keep Hong Kong functioning “in a manner that’s completely familiar to western investors.”