Hong Kong leader cancels China trip in blow to reopening hopes

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John Li was due to visit Shenzhen and Guangzhou to discuss ways to resume travel with the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong leader John Lee has canceled a trip to mainland China aimed at resuming cross-border travel, reflecting the quagmire facing the financial center as it faces nearly three years of financially disastrous isolation. Struggles to get out.

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Li said on Wednesday that he would discuss the border situation online with mainland Chinese officials rather than face-to-face due to rising COVID-19 cases on both sides of the border.

Li, who took office in May following a “patriot-only” election managed by Beijing, is scheduled to travel to Guangzhou and neighboring tech hub Shenzhen to discuss ways to resume travel between Hong Kong and mainland China. Were.

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“We will discuss cross-border arrangements for residents in Hong Kong and mainland China and I hope that, after thorough discussions, a consensus can be reached,” Li told the virtual talks scheduled for Thursday. Most convenient”, he told reporters. alternative.

Hong Kong, which follows a less stringent version of China’s strict “zero-Covid” policy, has been largely cut off from the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world since authorities closed borders in February 2020.

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The restrictions of the pandemic have affected economic activity, affected the mental health of residents, and fueled the mass exodus of people and capital from the international financial center, which has for decades described itself as “Asia’s World City”. as marketed.

Hong Kong’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 1.4 percent in the April-June period, after falling 3.9 percent in the first quarter, sending the city into a technical recession for the second time in three years.

Although the Chinese-ruled city earlier this month reduced the duration of hotel quarantine for international arrivals to three days, its travel restrictions are out of step with those of other economies, including regional rivals such as Singapore.

Despite pledging to restore connectivity to the city, Li has not laid out a specific roadmap or timetable for reopening, with many observers suspecting that such a decision would depend on Beijing scrapping its controversial zero-tolerance strategy. .

Gary Ng, a senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera: “The original visit was intended to be a dialogue on people-to-people exchanges across the border, and the cancellation shows that there is no irony.”

With a “zero-Covid” dream, it will be difficult for Hong Kong to reopen its borders with mainland China unless there is a U-turn in policy. For now, we’re not seeing it yet. The never-ending restrictions will remain the biggest hurdle in normalizing cross-border movement.”

Credit: www.aljazeera.com /

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