Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu discusses matters during an interview with China Daily in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, on Thursday. LIU XIAOHAN / CHINA DAILY

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu on Thursday said his eight-day visit to the Middle East, which ends on Friday, has achieved many positive results, including good understanding on governmental level and the business sector, as the visit saw the closing of nine memorandums of understanding and letters of intent between Hong Kong enterprises and their Arab partners. 

Making the remarks in an interview with China Daily in the Dubai International Financial Centre of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Lee said the governments of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the UAE have agreed to explore collaboration in green finance and sustainability. 

This kind of collaboration between the governments will build a platform for the business community to explore potential opportunities, he explained. 

Lee said both governments have agreed to enhance opportunities in finance, particularly green finance, via fundraising for some Islamic economies, the issuing of bonds, or through developing special financial products for the Islamic market. 

Lee said Hong Kong, having reconnected with the world, is looking to contribute to capital diversification and to help further develop the capital market of the Middle East. 

The visit has increased the understanding on government-to-government level, key for material development in the long run, Lee said. 

Hong Kong’s strength in technology was also highlighted during the trip with some of the memorandums signed delving into the use of technology for smart city development, Lee said. 

Noting the keen interest of Middle Eastern countries to enhance their presence in Hong Kong, Lee said he and his officers will have a lot to follow up on after they return to Hong Kong. 

The Middle Eastern countries are convinced that establishing regional headquarters in Hong Kong will be helpful for their foray into the Chinese mainland market, given Hong Kong’s role as the gateway to the mainland and the enormous market of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Lee said.  

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu (left) meets with the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in Dubai, the UAE, on Thursday. PHOTO COURTESY OF HKSAR GOVERNMENT

More Hong Kong government officials are expected to visit the Middle East, including a visit by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority by June.  

“I see the momentum building up very quickly, I think, and that will lead to eventually a scale, which will then become self-driving,” Lee said.

Lee is expected to visit member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, his next stop on global efforts to tell good stories of Hong Kong, later this year. 

Lee led a high-powered delegation, comprising over 30 heavyweights from various sectors, to visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Feb 4. During the trip, they met with high-ranking government officials, local business chambers and visited key projects in the region. The Middle East is considered a key link in the Belt and Road Initiative announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013. 

Xi visited Saudi Arabia in December last year, when he proposed deepening China-Arab cooperation through “eight major common actions” in areas such as development, food security and public health science and technology. 

Lee said Hong Kong has worked with Middle Eastern nations for a long time as an active participant in the initiative, with Hong Kong companies managing some ports in the region and Hong Kong architects designing buildings. 

However, he conceded that the COVID-19 pandemic had, to some extent, obstructed the city’s efforts to team up with mainland companies to get closely involved in Belt and Road projects. 

Putting the pandemic behind them now, Hong Kong will actively look to team up with mainland companies to participate in State projects under the initiative by leveraging its well-trained professionals in areas such as legal and architecture, as well as individual efforts to promote and participate in the initiative, Lee said.