In face of Brexit, Mandelson urges Hong Kong to increase trade with Britain

Former British business secretary is in town to speak to local business leaders and chambers of commerce

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 7:00am

Former British business secretary Peter Mandelson is trying to drum up support for continuing and even ramping up commerce between his country and Hong Kong in the face of the UK’s imminent pull-out from the European Union.

In town this week to talk to chambers of commerce and business leaders about the implications of Brexit, which he expects to happen within two years, he described the general reaction in Hong Kong as one of “bewilderment”.

“People are baffled as to why and how Britain can extract itself from that degree of integration, and certainly what we are going to see is a de-merger of two economies, which is without precedent,” the former European commissioner told the Post.

“It’s so important that business leaders in Hong Kong tell their counterparts and their friends in Britain to be careful what Britain wishes for in this situation, and that Britain should not sever its ties. It does need to engage constructively with Europe, and that’s what Britain’s friends in the rest of the world expect it to do.”

Mandelson also looked at the bright side of Brexit for China, including the future of its RMB business in London, saying Beijing was right in seeing the pull-out from the EU as a welcome mat for investment in Britain.

“London will continue as the leading centre for foreign exchange activity. I don’t think that ... those ties, which have already been established, will come under pressure,” he said.

In the context of Brexit, he also drew attention to the opposition in his country to China’s involvement in plans to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant.

“If there are new policies pursued that affect China, for example, the financing of the Hinkley Point nuclear plant, then the British government will be very mindful of the need not to alienate Chinese investors, not to create a different impression, that we are open to them. And that decision, if it changes, regarding Hinkley, will have to be managed very carefully.”

He spoke to the Post just ahead of Thursday’s announcement that the British government was giving the green light to the controversial project after Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a review.

The veteran politician also spoke of the dramatic political and social changes in Hong Kong, including the election of a new generation of lawmakers and contentious talk among them of the city’s independence from China.

“What’s been created in Hong Kong is a huge prize for its people, so everyone here has to be careful what they wish for; but equally, ignoring people, brushing aside their concerns, saying that certain viewpoints are not valid or legitimate is wrong. Everyone’s view is legitimate,” he said.

Asked what he thought of local protesters waving British flags in the city, he replied: “I don’t think that Hong Kong is going to progress by turning the clock back.”