Wires

UPDATE 2-Hong Kong leader says financial hub's strengths intact despite protests

Noah Sin

protests@ (Adds finance secretary comments)

HONG KONG, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's strengths as a global financial hub have not been undermined by months of pro-democracy protests, the Chinese-ruled city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, said on Monday.

Protests in Hong Kong escalated in June over a since-withdrawn bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party. They have since broadened to include demands such as universal suffrage.

Speaking at the opening of a regional financial forum, Lam said the city's financial system remained stable thanks to lessons learnt since the Asian financial crisis. Lam cited the listing of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd as a boon for other listings by mainland companies.

The city's "strengths and resilience, just like our financial systems, have not been undermined despite (the fact) that we experienced considerable social unrest and challenges," Lam said.

She added she was confident the Asian financial hub will bridge divisions, and realise its goals of a reunited community and "flourishing" economy.

Finance Secretary Paul Chan, speaking at the same event, said Hong Kong's banking system was running smoothly and had ample liquidity despite the city facing "unprecedented" turbulence.

Many protests involved violent clashes between protesters and the police on central streets lined by the city's tallest towers hosting top finance companies.

Some financial firms have been caught in the middle, with branches of mainland banks repeatedly vandalised as protesters vented their anger at what they perceive as Beijing meddling in the city's affairs, an accusation denied by Beijing which blames the West for fomenting unrest.

HSBC has also drawn the ire of some protesters who accuse it of being complicit in action by the authorities against activists trying to raise money to support their campaign. HSBC strongly denies any connection.

Hurt by a tariff war between Washington and Beijing, and with protests hurting tourism and retail sales, Hong Kong's economy has fallen into recession and relies on its finance industry to prevent a deeper downturn.

Chan said the government was considering a more "competitive" tax arrangement to attract private equity funds to the city and further relief measures to prop up the economy, without offering further details. (Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Lincoln Feast.)