‘Too much talk, not enough action’ by Hong Kong SMEs hoping to cash in on Belt and Road, says veteran NPC member

Peter Wong Man-kong says Hong Kong firms could miss out on the massive opportunities likely to be on offer by the flagship national economic initiative

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 10:20pm

There has been too much talk and not enough action yet by Hong Kong entrepreneurs to explore concrete economic opportunities from China’s flagship “One Belt, One Road” economic initiative, according to a veteran Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress (NPC).

Peter Wong Man-kong told South China Morning Post the central government’s trade initiative to link economies into a China-centred trading network needed more field studies by firms carried out, to explore business opportunities rather than just “waiting at home or attending some forums” on the initiative.

While various infrastructure construction projects, such as railways and ports, are being built between different Belt and Road economies, the business sector – especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – are not doing enough, particularly those operating in niche markets, said Wong.

“Emerging economies should always provide huge motivation for SMEs,” Wong said in Beijing on Friday.

He added Hong Kong companies and mainland firms from southern China had been the ones to earn the first pots of gold, during the early stages of China’s reform and opening up process, in the 1980s.

Now, since most of the countries along the Belt and Road routes are emerging economies, it offers another great opportunity for those same kinds of companies to rekindle that entrepreneurial spirit, he said.

The Belt and Road was first introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and covers more than 60 countries and economies including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Thailand and Malaysia, and focuses on connectivity and cooperation among these countries.

Emerging economies should always provide huge motivation for SMEs
Peter Wong Man-kong

However, despite many mainland cities trying to organise relevant activities to promote the initiative, most have been working by themselves, resulting in often-redundant investment and wasted resources, he said.

In Hong Kong, participation to the project is even more “superficial”, and that organising forums to discuss the initiative had led to a generation of “armchair strategists”, rather than genuine business pioneers of the future, said Wong.

Wong added many Hong Kong entrepreneurs had concerns about the investment environment in many Belt and Road countries primarily due to the lack of well-established legal systems.

“But when everything in a market is ready, the business opportunities may have also gone”.

Pauline Ngan, another Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, echoed Wong’s views, adding that organising forums to discuss the initiative are all well and good, but it is far from enough, as entrepreneurs have to physically go and create their own opportunities.

She runs Mainland Headwear Holding Ltd, a Hong Kong-listed specialist milliner, which was one of the first firms to move its main manufacturing base to Bangladesh – a country included in the Belt and Road initiative – due to rising labour costs in Shenzhen.

In 2016, the company shipped 20 million hats to various international markets, 65 per cent of them now being made in Bangladesh, according to Ngan.

“People need entrepreneurial spirit to dig out opportunities,” she said. “They should go there themselves and sort out any potential difficulties – but they have to start now.”