I’m honoured to be here today.
Not only because Hong Kong is such a beautiful and vibrant city.
But because this is a forum that brings together some of the finest expertise in our financial community – from across Asia, and from across the rest of the world too.
This is all the more important as we meet in the context of economic and financial uncertainty, and profound political change.
Change and uncertainty require global dialogue, so it is a real privilege to be given the opportunity, on behalf of the British government, to contribute to that dialogue here today.
The theme of this year’s forum is ‘Driving change, innovation and connectivity’.
And I want to talk about each in turn.
Let me start with change.
Because as you may have noticed, that’s something we in Britain had quite a lot of in 2016!
Not only did we get a new Prime Minister – and, I’m proud to say, the second female Prime Minister in our history.
But we also took the historic decision to take a new direction and to leave the European Union.
I know that for many of you, this will raise some questions about how things will change in the future.
But let me provide some reassurance.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that the process of leaving the European Union will begin by the end of March this year, meaning no unnecessary delays.
Most importantly of all, our economy is growing, our banks are well capitalised, and we are well equipped to deal with any ongoing risks.
So it is clear Britain is in a strong position to make this adjustment.
I also want to be clear that the UK government sees this as a huge opportunity for Britain.
We are not turning our back on the international stage.
We see our relationships with countries across Asia and the rest of the world as more important now than ever before.
And, working closely with our international partners, we will continue to advocate passionately for free trade and free markets.
But it’s not all change in the UK.
When it comes to Financial Services, the UK remains home to one of the most international and the most experienced financial capitals in the world:
- we’re the largest exporter of financial services in the world
- we’re home to over 250 foreign banks – more than any other financial centre
- we account for close to 40% of global FX trading – more than anywhere else in the world
- and with an unrivalled pool of investors, we’re also Europe’s largest asset management centre – with almost £7 trillion pounds under management
- and all this is supported by world-leading legal and professional services
So the UK is a leading global financial centre, and the natural partner of choice for Asian companies looking to go global.
And we’re determined to keep it that way as we navigate our exit from the European Union.
Because we don’t rest on our laurels in Britain, which leads me on to our second watchword of this forum – innovation.
What’s clear is that if you don’t keep moving, you don’t keep your reputation for excellence.
The City of London can look back on centuries of success – but we know our future success depends on making the most of opportunities to come.
And these are exciting times in global finance.
In the UK, we are embracing innovation – and I’m pleased to say we’re doing it in partnership with countries across Asia.
Domestically, we’re doing many things to support the development of this important sector.
But we’re also co-operating with other leaders in FinTech.
We’ve agreed partnerships – we call them ‘FinTech Bridges’ – with Singapore, the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China.
I’m delighted that we’ve taken the first steps towards agreeing a Bridge with Hong Kong too.
And in a few months’ time, we’re going to hold the first ever International FinTech Conference to promote the UK’s world-leading FinTech sector to investors from across the world – and I hope to see many of you in this room there.
We’re also leading the way in developing new capital markets.
We’re collaborating with countries across the world, in particular here in Asia, to develop the market for green finance to meet our collective commitment to stop climate change in its tracks.
The UK is also the leading western hub for the Islamic Finance, and we continue to work closely with countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, and with the Gulf Cooperation Council, to drive innovation in this important market.
And we’re also supporting others – in particular India and China – to internationalise their currencies, helping them to connect and integrate their financial markets with the global financial system.
And this brings me to the final theme of this conference: connectivity.
Because, as the examples I have mentioned show, in the UK we believe the best way to tackle the big issues, and the best way to raise prosperity for all, is through partnerships across borders.
We place huge importance and value on the connections we have here in Asia.
It’s telling, for example, that the Prime Minister’s first bilateral visit outside Europe was to India.
And that the British Chancellor’s first foreign trip was to Beijing and Hong Kong.
The UK has always had a special relationship with this part of the world.
But it’s about much more than shared history.
It’s about common values and cultural links.
It’s about the thousands of people from this part of the world that come to study and work in the UK; and the thousands of British citizens that choose to make their living here.
And of course, it is about the close connections between the UK and Asian economies.
Those connections matter because we have so much to offer each other.
I saw this first-hand when I took part in the recent UK-China Economic and Financial Dialogue – where we not only made substantial progress to boost our cooperation on financial services, but also cemented ties on energy, trade and investment.
I saw this too on my recent visit to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, where I discussed with my counterparts, and with industry, the many ways in which we can collaborate further on Financial Services.
In Britain, we believe passionately in the power of working in partnership with countries right across the globe.
And we will continue to work tirelessly to strengthen those partnerships in the future.
So – we are living in times of change.
But we should be optimistic – both at home in the UK, and across Asia – that we will also be in times of great opportunity and progress.
Because, ladies and gentlemen, by embracing change…
By empowering innovation…
And by working in partnership…
We will all become more prosperous as a result.