Although the world is weary of talking about Covid and its effects on the markets and day-to-day life, the reality is that the effects of the pandemic continue to resonate in this part of the world in a way that seems like a bad memory for the west.
Protests in China have been well-documented, and have indeed led to a relaxation of restrictions. In Hong Kong, mandatory quarantine and isolation requirements for incoming travellers, and limitations on numbers gathering in social situations have belatedly been lifted (although the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors remains in place, much to the bemusement of both residents and outsiders).
Shifts in the market have been well-documented, especially the notable office closures of major, long-term resident US firms in Hong Kong preceding new launches for those firms in Singapore, previously regarded as very much poor relation of the SAR as a regional economic hub. Whether this trend continues in 2023 will be an interesting indicator of where the west sees the long-term future of the region. The increasing presence of the PRC’s major firms will continue to pick up any slack however.
Whether the appetite for opening in Hong Kong has dulled in perpetuity will also be open to debate. The number of new entrants has certainly slowed over the past few years, with severely restricted physical access to the territory being the most outwardly obvious rationale behind that. Will firms with Asian ambitions still view Hong Kong as the most attractive gateway now that travel has ceased to be a factor? Or will the emerging markets of South East Asia prove a more compelling proposition for those looking to plant a flag?
With the upheaval of the last three years it’s been difficult to predict anything with any confidence. For the first time in three years, however, the clouds are genuinely beginning to part. Let’s see what clarity and stability this brings.