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Hong Kong just won back Rise, ‘Asia’s biggest’ tech conference

Rise, an annual tech conference whose recent speakers have included executives from Uber (UBER), Alibaba (BABA) and Stripe, said Thursday that it would return to the city next year, with plans to stay for the next five years.

Organizers had announced in late 2020 that they would move the event to the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur, saying they wanted to seek opportunities in Southeast Asia’s fast-growing tech scene.

At the time, the move raised questions about Hong Kong’s ability to hold onto its image as Asia’s premier global business hub as it was still grappling with the aftermath of mass protests in 2019. Conference leaders insisted then that the political turmoil was not part of the decision.

Now, “Hong Kong has once again won as the host city of Rise for the coming five years,” the event’s organizers said in a joint statement Thursday with the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Hong Kong just lost a splashy tech conference to Kuala Lumpur

The event next March will be staged in-person. Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau touted this as “a testimony of Hong Kong’s success to containing the pandemic and keeping infection rate among the lowest in the world, thereby giving international event organizers confidence that they can stage their events here safely.”

“I’m very excited,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder and CEO of Rise, noted in a statement that the event had “grown to what it is today after five successful years in the city.” Rise is billed as Asia’s largest tech gathering, and attracted some 16,000 attendees and more than 350 speakers at its most recent conference in 2019.

The news comes as Malaysia is struggling to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, with the number of known cases doubling about every two months, according to CNN’s coronavirus tracker.

The decision also awards Hong Kong a small victory as it continues to face questions over its future as an international center due to stringent Covid-19 quarantine rules, which are some of the toughest on the planet.

Hong Kong allows Nicole Kidman to skip quarantine, reportedly to film for Amazon
In recent months, the city’s government has faced strong criticism for granting certain exemptions, such as one last month that allowed the actress Nicole Kidman to skip quarantine. The Oscar winner entered the city in August to film a series for Amazon (AMZN).
In May, officials also received pushback for allowing some top finance executives to apply for exemptions. Critics argued that the policy was elitist, while the government said it was to “maintain Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center.” Recently, though, HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker reportedly spent three weeks in isolation in the city.

— Hanna Ziady, Diksha Madhok and Carly Walsh contributed to this report.