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US remains important source of funds and start-ups for Hong Kong, InvestHK says

US remains important source of funds and start-ups for Hong Kong, InvestHK says
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The United States remains one of Hong Kong’s most important destinations for attracting funds and start-ups, the head of the financial hub’s investment promotion agency has told the Post during a trip to California, despite Washington’s strained ties with Beijing.

InvestHK’s Director General Alpha Lau Hai-suen said some American tech companies she spoke with had expressed an interest in investment opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, an economic zone consisting of Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province.

She also revealed that organising a visit by American firms to the city was being explored.

“The US has always been consistently in the top three or four in terms of where the foreign companies are from, after mainland China and Japan,” she said in an interview in Berkeley. “They’re all equally important … I won’t say there’s one more important than the other.

“We must continue to foster this … San Francisco Bay area, you know, it’s a bedrock of the technological advancements in this country.”

Lau was part of a delegation led by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po on a four-day visit to San Francisco and Berkeley. The officials returned to Hong Kong on Saturday.

During the trip, InvestHK signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bay Area Council, a San Francisco-based business association, that aims to enhance collaboration with a focus on promoting the green economy and sustainable development.

As of last year, the US had 1,273 companies operating in Hong Kong, trailing behind the mainland’s 2,177 and Japan’s 1,403 according to official data. Yet, the US figure marked an 8 per cent drop over the previous decade, from a peak of 1,388 in 2012.

Lau, a veteran banker appointed to the role last November, said InvestHK’s concerted efforts in attracting businesses had started yielding results, as she reported that one-fifth of the 198 companies her agency helped to establish a presence in Hong Kong during the first four months of this year were from the US.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan, InvestHK Director General Alpha Lau, Bay Area Council COO John Grubb and Bay Area Council China Initiative Committee Co-chair Kevin Xu at a deal signing in California. Photo: Natalie Wong

She said American firms had played an important role in Hong Kong’s innovation ecosystem, as 12 per cent of the city’s 4,300 start-ups were either from the US or had an American origin.

“We want the overall pie to get bigger, obviously,” she said. “I assure you more dialogues are going further … we will continue to filter it down to industries.”

Artificial intelligence, health science and green energy were among the sectors that InvestHK has been keen to focus on. The agency operates 33 offices globally, including ones in San Francisco and New York.

During its visit, the Hong Kong delegation attended a “Bay to Bay” dialogue alongside Guangdong and Macau officials to forge closer ties between the bay area in southern China and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Lau and other officials also joined a US-China climate change talk in Berkeley, where she said she met representatives from green tech and infrastructure companies. It took place as media around the world reported on the first arrests in Hong Kong under a new domestic security law and the conviction of 14 opposition figures for subversion.

But she said none of the American executives she met raised questions about national security in Hong Kong.

“They were really more concerned about how to use Hong Kong effectively as a gateway into China or into Asia,” she said. “Facts speak louder than a few subjective opinions of certain people.”

But Lau also acknowledged that efforts to promote the bay area blueprint in the US and Europe were lacking.

She also addressed a saga involving a Dubai prince who previously pledged to return to Hong Kong in late May to officiate at the inauguration ceremony for his family office in Hong Kong, but failed to do so as planned.

When asked whether Hong Kong authorities had been in contact with Sheikh Ali Rashed Ali Saeed Al Maktoum and background checks would had been done before InvestHK invited him to the city, Lau said: “Hong Kong is a very friendly place to business where approvals are not needed for setting up a family office.”

“Most family offices are perhaps a bit more private, but we do not control what they want to say to the media. So [we] would happily help anyone coming to Hong Kong.”

In 2021, InvestHK established a dedicated team led by Lau to promote Hong Kong as a leading hub for family offices. The city’s treasury chief said in April that more than 130 family offices were planning to set up or expand their operations in Hong Kong, with about three-fifths of them based on the mainland.

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