Hong Kong finance chief to attend APEC meet, side-stepping dispute

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan will attend an APEC meeting on Nov. 15-17 in San Francisco, it said on Tuesday, standing in for Chief Executive John Lee and smoothing over a diplomatically sensitive issue for both Beijing and Washington.

Chan’s acceptance of the invitation suggests an agreement by the Chinese-ruled city to be represented at the meeting by an official other than its chief executive. Beijing had previously said Lee, who is subject to U.S. sanctions, should attend.

The arrangement follows a high-profile visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington over the weekend where both sides agreed to work towards an expected summit between their presidents at the same APEC meeting, as the two nations seek ways to manage their bilateral tensions.

The United States imposed sanctions on Lee in 2020 over his role in the crackdown of pro-democracy demonstrations.

Earlier this year, a State Department spokesperson said Washington would work with Hong Kong to ensure “appropriate” participation in the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting.

Beijing had reacted angrily to suggestions Lee might not attend, saying imposing “illegal” and “unreasonable” sanctions on him was an act of bullying and that not inviting him violated APEC rules and contravened U.S. commitments as the host.

Hong Kong’s statement said Lee was unable to attend due to “scheduling issues” and made no mention of the U.S. sanctions.

Chan is not subject to sanctions.

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Farah Master and Ryan Woo; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)