(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee is seeking to convince oil giant Saudi Aramco and its units to consider a secondary listing in the Asian financial hub as he embarks on his first official visit to the Middle East, according to the South China Morning Post. 

Lee is kicking off a campaign to attract new investment to the city following almost three years of pandemic isolation. The leader will meet top executives of Saudi Aramco and highlight what Hong Kong has to offer as an international financial center, according to the report, which quoted the leader as saying he will try his best to encourage the oil producer to list in the city.

Hong Kong has been a popular center for sovereign funds and companies to list, the report cited Lee as saying Sunday after arriving in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. Aramco’s businesses are “very diversified with its different subsidiaries” and the plan is to “encourage them to come to Hong Kong for participation, including listing in the city,” the South China Morning Post quoted him as saying.

Aramco declined to comment to Bloomberg.

Saudi Arabian Oil Co., as the $2 trillion company is formally known, listed in Saudi capital Riyadh in 2019. Prior to the company’s $29 billion share offering, the world’s largest on record, it opted to shun an international listing. 

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Lee was welcomed at the airport by Badr AlBadr, deputy minister of Saudi Arabia’s ministry of investment; Hamad Aljebreen, consul-general of Saudi Arabia in Hong Kong; and Yin Lijun, deputy chief of mission of the Chinese Embassy in the country, according to the report.

He is visiting Saudi Arabia and then will head to the United Arab Emirates until Feb. 11. During that time, he’ll meet with local political and business leaders to promote new development opportunities and “foster Hong Kong’s exchanges and co-operation with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on all fronts,” according to a government statement released before the trip. 

The chief executive said before leaving that Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s development vision and needs are “exactly in line” with Hong Kong’s advantages, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

His trip comes as local Hong Kong officials seek to promote the city and attract new investment opportunities to boost its battered economy, which contracted last year for the third time since 2019 as a prolonged exit from isolating Covid curbs weighed on the city. 

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Since Hong Kong began reopening up last year, Hong Kong officials have sought to increase engagement with the Middle East and their Asian neighbors as relations with traditional western allies have cooled amid authorities’ crackdown on dissent. 

Last October, Financial Secretary Paul Chan visited Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to develop potential business opportunities, while Lee and other government officials have since traveled to Vietnam and Thailand for similar purposes.  

The financial secretary said at the time of his visit that bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing reached out to Saudi Aramco about a secondary listing, according to the South China Morning Post.

China has been actively pursuing investment opportunities in the Middle East amid heightened Sino-US tensions. In December Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia for a summit where some $50 billion of investment agreements were signed. 

--With assistance from Fahad Abuljadayel.

(Updates with Aramco declining to comment.)

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