Carrie Lam denies reports of talks with state firms on buying up Hong Kong

Denise Tsang

The Hong Kong government on Friday denied reports of plans for Chinese state-owned enterprises to step up investment and take control of major commercial assets in the city.

According to various news reports, China’s state-owned asset watchdog told officials from roughly 100 of the country’s biggest state firms to invest in real estate and tourism projects that would create jobs and stabilise financial markets in Hong Kong, helping to calm unrest in the city.

The reports said the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (Sasac) told the firms – including oil and gas giant Sinopec and China Merchants Group – to look into deals to take control of companies in Hong Kong.

The reports came two days after Sasac chairman Hao Peng appeared in Hong Kong at a forum on the Belt and Road Initiative.

Hao, who was accompanied by a group of executives from state firms, also met Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

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The reports also come as Hong Kong businesses, such as Cathay Pacific Airways, come under pressure from mainland authorities to toe Beijing’s line on the increasingly violent protests in the city.

In addition, they feed into perceptions in Hong Kong that mainland power and money is taking over the former British colony, weakening the city’s identity.

On Friday, Lam’s office denied that her meeting with Hao and the SOE executives was about their expansion plans in Hong Kong.

The office said that part of Lam’s responsibilities was to meet visiting corporate representatives and she met representatives from other countries as well during the belt and road forum.

“The office regrets the incorrect news report,” it said.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po also said the meeting with state firm executives did not cover SOE takeovers of key Hong Kong businesses.

“This was not talked about at all [during meeting with Sasac],” Chan said.

“We met at the belt and road forum and talked about how Hong Kong could help SOEs go abroad in terms of infrastructure investment by offering services such as fundraising, insurance and risk management,” Chan said.

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Since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Chinese state enterprises, along with mainland financial institutions, have gradually increased their economic presence in the city through Hong Kong share sales and mergers with local businesses.

One executive at an SOE in Hong Kong said there was no conspiracy of mainland investment in Hong Kong and Beijing publicly encouraged closer ties between Hong Kong and mainland economies.

Meanwhile, People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, issued a Mid-Autumn Festival card in which the Chinese character for “home” is stylised to look like the letters “H” and “K” with a message saying “this cannot be a home without you”.

Additional reporting by Sidney Leng

This article Carrie Lam denies reports of talks with state firms on buying up Hong Kong first appeared on South China Morning Post

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