If global reach and product diversification and the ability to confront the technology challenges that they pose separate the elite exchange operators from the rest, then Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing truly joined the club in 2013 with its $2.2 billion acquisition of the London Metal Exchange. The motivation of Charles Li, HKEX's chief executive officer since 2010, was not mere empire-building: His focus is on growth opportunities in China, including LME's potential to serve Chinese institutional traders' needs. Despite his lobbying efforts, Li has yet to get LME registered on the mainland. But he did gain approval for a surrogate, the Qianhai Mercantile Exchange, which opened in May in Shenzhen. HKEX's fifth active trading venue, Qianhai caters to demand that, according to Li, is not being met by China's three futures markets. The 55-year-old adds that very few contracts on the Chinese exchanges come with an option for physical settlement, and spot market participants are dispersed among hundreds of poorly regulated and highly fragmented trading platforms. "We can't just blindly copy the LME, because China has its own unique characteristics and challenges," Li says. "So we want to leverage the LME to begin tackling some of China's unique structural issues by building a new model that both fills a market vacuum and meets market needs. We want to serve the physical economy and eventually establish benchmark prices for China."
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