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Taking the High Road

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 4:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2016, 11:19am

China’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy has been the subject of much attention. The strategy is set to enhance trade, finance, and infrastructure projects with as many as 65 countries which stretch between Asia and Europe.

Some of these countries are on the so-called “Maritime Silk Road”, while others lie on the overland routes which link the two continents. Taken together, the countries involved account for around 60 per cent of the world’s population, something which highlights the ambition of the initiative, as well as the vast scope of the opportunities it promises.

City University of Hong Kong (CityU), Tsinghua University in Beijing and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) signed an agreement on 20th January in Geneva to advance Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) within China’s One Belt One Road initiative.  

“The world already knows that China has manufacturing capacity, technology, and money. But its most important contribution to developing countries may be its expertise in infrastructure and logistics,” says Professor Houmin Yan, dean of the College of Business at CityU. “Thirty years ago, when the mainland economy started to expand, the first step was to build roads, bridges, and ports to make transportation accessible and create a logistics network. When you have those things in place, an economy can speed up. You make ways to connect factories and consumers, and then people can do business,” Yan says.

With this in mind, CityU quickly teamed up with UNECE (the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe), an organisation with a remit to support the development of public-private partnerships (PPPs).   Broadly speaking, UNECE’s work involves setting up centres in various parts of the world to focus on generating new investment in specific sectors such as healthcare, SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and smart cities.   

In each case, the objective is to create standards, and provide viable business models. The centres also offer guidelines on the best practices for managing different kinds of risk, implementing anti-corruption procedures, and ensuring effective collaborations.  

“We met with UNECE a number of times and proposed a centre for China focusing on transportation, logistics, and related infrastructure projects,” Yan says. “Historically, this has been a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s economy, and we saw this could also tie in with China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.”

Last August, an agreement signed in Beijing gave the go-ahead for such a centre at CityU. It specified the need for suitable expertise, training, and the promotion of the idea of PPP investment in China.

Tsinghua University expressed an interest in becoming involved last November. The move was welcomed by CityU, since the Tsinghua’s strength in teaching public administration complements the private-sector focus of CityU’s College of Business. The arrangement serves as a prime example of partnership in action.

“We realised Tsinghua could bring a lot to the table, because of its connections and resources. It will help to get the right mix,” Yan says. “Education and research are the basic requirements for any university. But we also have a social responsibility to support sustainable development. With this in mind, the PPP centre will allow us to contribute something more to the economy, and to society.”          

Yan adds that Hong Kong has a duty to facilitate such business contacts, because of its well-known advantages. The city has a unique role to play in “bringing China to the world” as the “One Belt, One Road” strategy unfolds, Yan notes.  

“We believe that having the PPP centre of excellence on the CityU campus can help in many ways,” Yan says. “For our students, particularly those doing MBA and DBA programmes, it will promote better understanding of infrastructure needs, including telecoms, the monetary systems, and business culture in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ countries. It will also create a PPP mindset.”

There will be opportunities to work with UNECE centres to develop localised initiatives for, say, healthcare and smart cities. This will add an extra international component to the academic curriculum and research projects.

Moreover, mainland government officials and business people will be able to attend training programmes, which will open the way to further exchanges and collaboration.  

“We have a mission and an ability to help individuals broaden their scope and, if necessary, acquire more of a global view,” Yan says. “If you want to do business with countries like Iran, Turkey, and India, it helps to know something of their culture, history, and influence. So we will also include that in our teaching and training.” 


This article appeared in Education Post as CityU and Tsinghua University will cooperate to advance public-private partnerships