HONG KONG: China vows continued support for jurisdiction as financial hub.

As published on businesstimes.com.sg, Monday 24 August, 2020.

[BEIJING] China's banking regulator pledged its backing for Hong Kong as a finance hub and reiterated a commitment to opening up the Chinese financial sector amid a deepening standoff with the US.

China will provide support for its financial institutions who are doing business in Hong Kong while complying with regulations and offering services to residents and companies, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) said in a statement on its website on Saturday.

Tensions between the US and China over Hong Kong has sparked tit-for-tat sanctions on politicians and officials on both sides that have left global banking institutions walking a tightrope between the two world powers.

A new national security law has fueled concerns about the state of Hong Kong's autonomy from China, including freedoms of the press and the independence of its judicial system. Both have helped underpin Hong Kong's reputation as a global financial hub. The US has also ended preferential trading treatment for the city, which President Donald Trump and his team say was now essentially just another Chinese city.

"At present, Hong Kong's financial market is generally operating smoothly and the linked exchange rate system has a solid foundation, which also reflects the confidence of the international market in Hong Kong," the CBIRC said. "Hong Kong's status as an international financial center will not be weakened and shaken, but it will become more prosperous and stable in the future."

Bankers and their lawyers from Hong Kong to Washington have been poring over the fine-print to reconcile how they can dodge major consequences from being squeezed between US and Chinese laws. Running afoul of the legislations put companies at risk of fines or losing their license to do business.

The CBIRC also said more foreign financial institutions are expected to join or expand in the Chinese market, and are doing their due diligence before entering. Some have submitted preliminary applications to open a unit, it said.

"It is expected that more foreign institutions will participate in China's financial market in the coming period and become a viable force for the high-quality development of China's financial industry," the CBIRC said.

China has approved several applications this year for ventures by foreign financial companies. BlackRock, Singapore's Temasek Holdings and China Construction Bank received the go-ahead to jointly build an asset-management business. Chubb increased its stake in Huatai Insurance Group, becoming its largest shareholder, while Korean Reinsurance started its China reinsurance branch.

Separately, the CBIRC said the non-performing ratio of loans to small businesses is getting close to the original level that regulators had planned to tolerate, though it is still at a controllable level. China had 13.7 trillion yuan (S$2.71 trillion) of small and micro loans as of the end of June, up 28.4 per cent from a year earlier. Their bad-loan ratio stood at 2.99 per cent, according to the statement.

The banking industry plans to dispose of 3.4 trillion yuan of non-performing assets this year, or 1.1 trillion yuan more than last year to strengthen their balance sheet.

"Considering that the coronavirus epidemic is a disaster of the century, and in order for the economy to completely return to normal, more financial contributions are still needed," it said. "Ensuring enterprises and stabilising employment means protecting banks and stabilising finance. Therefore, the recent increase in the cost of financial risks is both normal and necessary."

China has also introduced a mechanism that will monitor housing property financing, the People's Bank of China said in a statement on Sunday after a forum attended by regulators and real estate developers last week. Homes should not be used as speculative investments, and it remains important that land and housing prices are stable, it said.

The forum also studied ways to improve the financial support policy for the leasing market, and called for the speeding up of the formation of a housing system that attaches equal importance to rentals and purchases.