The social unrest plaguing Hong Kong will not prevent the city from playing a significant role in China’s development and its plan to grow global trade links, said business leaders at the Belt and Road Summit. “Hong Kong remains and will continue to play a very unique role in China’s continued development, and also more importantly, in the Belt and Road Initiative [in terms of] our professional services, legal system but also our financial centre,” said Victor Chu, chairman and chief executive of Hong Kong-based private equity and venture capital firm First Eastern Investment Group. He was speaking on a panel at the conference on Wednesday afternoon. The two-day summit, held against a backdrop of increasingly violent anti-government protests, attracted 5,000 businessmen and professionals from 60 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. It was jointly organised by the Hong Kong government and the Trade Development Council. “Although today Hong Kong’s GDP in relation to China’s GDP is minute, we must remember that over the past 40 years, Hong Kong has accounted for more than 40 per cent of the total foreign direct investment coming through or from the city into China,” said Chu. The unprecedented mass rallies – sparked by a now-abandoned extradition bill – have rocked Hong Kong since early June. Although Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the bill last Wednesday, the move has led to more scepticism than hope for an end to nearly three months of turmoil. Why China’s belt and road loans may not be the debt trap other countries fear While some expressed concerns about the impact of the social unrest on the international financial centre, Hong Kong and the “one country, two systems” policy under which it is governed could grow more powerful as a result, said Cheah Cheng Hye, co-chairman of Hong Kong-listed fund management company Value Partners Group, speaking at the same panel session. “This is the best opportunity for Hong Kong since 1997 to carry out necessary social economic reforms that will make Hong Kong even stronger than before,” said Cheah. “It will take time. We now have the best opportunity that we did not have even one year ago to do the kind of reform that would make ‘one country, two systems’ even stronger and more sustainable than before, bringing benefits to mainland China, Hong Kong and the world. “Don’t underestimate Hong Kong’s importance. In my years in Hong Kong in the financial industry, I’ve seen Hong Kong as the origin point for a lot of financing and funding in a lot of projects. It currently has roughly 40 per cent of all [yuan] outside of China.” “Hong Kong plays a very central role in the [Belt and Road Initiative],” said Mochtar Riady, founder and chairman of Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group. The 90-year-old Indonesian financial magnate said his company had been able to make use of the city’s unique location and capital market to expand its business. The belt and road is a vast China-centred strategy to grow global trade that involves dozens of countries and more than US$1 trillion in investment. It spans Asia, Europe and Africa, although projects in other regions have also been named under its banner. “In terms of investment, I am very confident in Hong Kong’s future,” said Dhanin Chearavanont, senior chairman of Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group. He added that there were plenty of opportunities for everyone in the belt and road plan, as well as the Greater Bay Area, that should be treasured.