December 4, 2022

Bangkok, Thailand CNN —

Hong Kong leader John Lee has arrived in Bangkok for a regional economic summit, the city’s chief executive’s first appearance at an international event in almost three years – as the Asian financial hub prepares for a comeback.

Lee, a US-sanctioned official who recently guided Hong Kong through a significant relaxation of its Covid-19 controls, is expected to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting to re-open the city for more than open business two years of strict international border controls.

“We will walk the talk and tell Hong Kong’s good stories to attract companies and talent to the city for business and development,” Lee said after arriving in Bangkok on Thursday, referring to his plan to host a Hong Kong business delegation at meetings to conduct with Thai colleagues after the summit.

But first, Lee, along with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and representatives from 19 other economies on both sides of the Pacific, will attend the two-day meeting of APEC leaders in the Thai capital, which begins on Friday and will also focus on regional trade and integration such as addressing global economic threats such as inflation and rising food costs.

Lee held a meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Bangkok International Airport after his arrival on Thursday afternoon. Lee was also at the airport to greet Xi upon his arrival, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.

For Lee, who took office in July, the summit offers a chance to win back the approval of the international business community after three years that have transformed the city. In 2019, ahead of the pandemic, the former British colony was rocked by large-scale pro-democracy protests, followed by a sweeping Beijing-backed crackdown on civil society and opposition politicians.

Lee was sanctioned by the US in 2020 for his role in “limiting Hong Kong citizens’ freedom of expression and assembly” as part of former US President Donald Trump’s administration’s response to Beijing’s imposition of restrictive national security laws in the city. At the time, Lee was the city’s secretary of security. The city’s then executive director, Carrie Lam, was also sanctioned.

While US President Joe Biden will not be attending APEC, Lee will find himself in the company of Vice President Kamala Harris and other US officials.

But Lee’s focus will be on economics, not politics, as the Hong Kong government seeks to revive a sluggish economy that only recently saw a significant relaxation of Covid-19 controls.

In September, city officials announced they were ending a system of formal Covid-19 quarantine for international travelers, which required arrivals at a given time to spend up to three weeks at a designated hotel at their own expense.

The changes followed considerable pressure from Hong Kong business and some public health officials to ease restrictions amid a flagging economy, an outflow of foreigners and concerns that the financial hub once known as “Asia’s metropolis” was being left behind The rest of the world has left the pandemic behind.

This marked a departure from mainland China’s policy of still mandating border quarantine and pursuing a policy of eradicating all infections.

Hong Kong has instead tried to balance limiting the spread of the virus with opening up to international events, including earlier this month hosting a summit of financial leaders and the Hong Kong Sevens, its biggest annual sporting event, which has been suspended since 2019 due to political reasons Riots and later Covid-19.

“We are working on specific and dedicated plans to ensure that major events and economic activities can be held smoothly in order to open up Hong Kong and bring the business community back to Hong Kong as quickly and safely as possible,” Lee said, according to public broadcaster RTHK latest week at a health summit in Hong Kong.

Lee will hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines of APEC and will also lead a delegation of more than 20 high-level officials from various sectors to visit companies and meet business leaders with the aim of “boosting Hong Kong’s ties and economic and trade exchanges with Hong Kong strengthen Thailand,” the government said ahead of the trip.