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Hong Kong’s Next Leader Says City Faces Challenges Opening China Border

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s next leader John Lee said the city still faces hurdles in reopening the border with mainland China, after returning from his first meeting with President Xi Jinping since being selected to run the financial hub.

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Lee said he told Premier Li Keqiang there are “a lot of challenges and difficulties” to overcome before travel with the mainland can resume. “I will start seeking communication with the mainland side, to explain the Hong Kong situation to them,” Lee said Tuesday at a press conference at Hong Kong International Airport, held shortly after he touched down from Beijing.

The former policeman also stated he still has no short list of candidates for his cabinet that he can disclose, but said he had shared his thinking with Xia Baolong, the top mainland official in charge of the Chinese territory.

During Lee’s four-day trip to Beijing, he received his official appointment letter from Li -- the final formality before taking office on July 1. Later on Monday, Xi praised Lee for defending national security and upholding stability, and stressed the central government’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” principle governing Hong Kong.

The former chief secretary will be sworn into office on July 1, the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule. He’ll face pressure to restore business confidence in the wake of the city’s restrictive hotel quarantine rules, address the housing crisis and manage Covid policy as Hong Kong seeks to balance the demands of China’s zero-tolerance approach with the business community.

All eyes are watching if Xi will come to Hong Kong for the anniversary, which would mark the first time Xi would have left mainland China since January 2020. Lee said he “doesn’t have any information on this.”

Separately, Bloomberg reported that the lobby group representing all airlines flying in and out of Hong Kong is pushing the government to cut the hotel quarantine period for travelers to three days and wants pre-flight Covid-19 tests scrapped, according to people with knowledge of the outreach.

That proposal would put Hong Kong further out of sync with policies on the mainland, where tens of thousands of lab testing booths are being set up across the country’s largest and most economically vital cities. The aim is to have residents always just a 15-minute walk away from a swabbing point, an investment that underscores China’s commitment to Covid Zero, potentially for years to come.

(Updates with China’s push on mass testing.)

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