HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee called the city a “pivotal gateway” between China and the world, as pressure mounts on the finance hub to reopen its borders.

“The central government fully supports Hong Kong in carrying out more extensive exchanges and close cooperation with the rest of the world,” the city’s leader said at the seventh Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong on Wednesday (Aug 31).

Hong Kong’s economy is on track to contract for the third time in four years, as pandemic policies weigh on growth. It is one of the last places in the world to impose hotel quarantine on vaccinated arrivals and an outdoor mask mandate.

Rival financial hub Singapore has scrapped Covid-19 border curbs, lifted its mask mandate in most places and announced visa plans to attract top talent in recent weeks, adding to the pressure.

Mr Lee is trying to balance reopening internationally with resuming travel ties to the mainland. He was set to travel to neighbouring Guangdong province this week to continue discussions on reopening the mainland border, local media outlets including the South China Morning Post have reported.

Mr Lee could delay that trip due a spike in Covid-19 cases both in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, Sing Tao newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing people it did not identify.

Hong Kong is reporting nearly 10,000 daily cases, and several cabinet ministers have tested positive in recent days.