Tue, May 16, 2017 - Page 9 News List

China ready to support HK shares ahead of July anniversary


The Chinese government has made preparations to support the Hong Kong stock market if needed to create a positive atmosphere before July 1, when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is expected to visit the territory for the first time as president to mark 20 years of Chinese rule.

State-backed institutions have set aside funds to ensure stable trading before the anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named as the information is not public.

It is unclear how much money has been earmarked or what market conditions would trigger government action.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council did not immediately reply to a faxed request for comment. The office of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive declined to comment.

While state-directed funds intervene regularly to manage swings in China’s US$6.6 trillion equity market, the government has not been known to take an active role in Hong Kong.

The former British colony, which sits near the top of global free-market rankings, is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in China’s power-transfer agreement with the UK.

Any attempt to influence Hong Kong stock prices risks provoking critics who say China is interfering too much in the territory’s affairs under Xi’s leadership.

It could also add fuel to the debate over Hong Kong’s future as a financial center.

Much of the territory’s appeal to international investors and businesses comes from its strong rule of law and minimal government interference, attributes that set it apart from China.

Lines between the two markets have blurred with the introduction of cross-border exchange links and cooperation agreements between the Chinese and Hong Kong securities regulators.

“The stock connect has already brought mainland markets closer to Hong Kong, but there will be a lot of people who will be dissatisfied with this, at least in principle,” said Peter Garnry, head of equity strategy at Saxo Bank A/S in Copenhagen. “Expect some political noise.”

China has a history of influencing domestic markets during important political events.

In the latest example, regulators stepped up scrutiny of local stock traders as the government prepared to host representatives at the weekend “One Belt, One Road” summit attended by Xi, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Policymakers were said to intervene during the past two annual meetings of Chinese lawmakers in Beijing.

Authorities might be especially keen to project an image of stability this year as they prepare for a twice-a-decade Chinese Communist Party leadership reshuffle toward year-end.

China has not confirmed that Xi will visit Hong Kong, but past leaders have tended to make the trip for every fifth year of the handover anniversary.

Xi is expected to make a three-day visit for this year’s celebrations, the South China Morning Post reported this month.

The anniversary comes against a backdrop of elevated political tension in Hong Kong. The Occupy Central protests paralyzed parts of the territory in 2014 and many residents are still angry over the lack of a direct election for their chief executive.

Behind-the-scenes backing from China helped Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) win a resounding victory among the business and political elites who picked the territory’s next chief executive in March. She beat an opponent more popular with the general public.

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