Hong Kong is paying a ministerial visit to Britain for the first time in three years

One of Hong Kong’s top finance officials plans to visit the UK in April as part of the territory’s first ministerial-level trip to the country in three years and to mark Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s quiet rebalancing of UK-China economic ties.

Financial Services Secretary Christopher Hui’s planned trip is the first since the UK accused China of violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the 1984 treaty that brought Hong Kong under Chinese control, and since the UK Hong Kongers have been offered a route to citizenship in the wake of Beijing’s crackdown on the territory.

The planned visit comes as Hong Kong embarks on a global charm offensive to restore business ties after the lifting of pandemic restrictions that effectively cut the city off from the rest of the world. The government is trying to woo tourists and skilled workers back after Covid-19 restrictions and a political crackdown in response to pro-democracy protests in 2019 sparked an exodus of residents.

Hui will meet British officials and business leaders in London, according to two people familiar with the preparations for the trip. Hui’s office confirmed he would visit Europe this year, but said details “will be announced in due course”.

Relations between the UK and China soured after Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 and overhauled the way the city was governed, only to bring it further under central authority control the following year.

In 2021, the government of then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said China was failing to honor the joint declaration that would guarantee Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy” for 50 years after the territory returned to Beijing’s control in 1997.

China then criticized the UK after it introduced a new immigration route for nearly 3 million Hong Kongers and their dependents under the British National Overseas Visa Scheme, which includes a route to citizenship.

British business is increasingly concerned by British politicians’ rhetoric about China, fearing it could jeopardize trade relations.

This week, Sunak’s government, in an update to its foreign and defense policies, defined China as “a landmark challenge,” citing China’s growing assertiveness as it struck a defense pact with the US and Australia in San Diego.

But the language in the updated policy was a step backwards from when Sunak described China as Britain’s “biggest long-term threat” during the Conservative Party leadership campaign last year, analysts said.

“There’s a difference between someone who isn’t governing and governing now,” said Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese studies at King’s College London.

“Sunak is a technocrat trying to reconcile these interests with China. . . He’s a lot more flexible [than his predecessors].”

As chancellor, Sunak has advocated trade relations with China and has suggested he would take an approach towards Beijing characterized by “robust pragmatism” as the UK faces a multitude of economic challenges.

Chinese authorities have also tried to lure foreign companies back after zero-Covid containment policies and geopolitical tensions prompted multinationals to consider moving supply chains out of the country.

As of Sunday, China’s Foreign Ministry organized a visit by foreign officials and businessmen to four cities in the Greater Bay Area, a ring of mainland cities surrounding Hong Kong and populated by more than 70 million people, to tout business opportunities, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Consular officials and chambers of commerce, including representatives from the UK, Europe and Australia, are expected to take part in a four-day visit to Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Guangzhou and Dongguan. US officials do not plan to attend due to scheduling conflicts, a person familiar with the matter said.

https://www.ft.com/content/f685b98b-7667-4cbf-b582-cdab53b1aa79 Hong Kong is paying a ministerial visit to Britain for the first time in three years

Brian Ashcraft

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