Instead of uncorking champagne bottles, several lemons and two pomegranates - specialities of Tajikistan - were presented to mark the signing of a US$20 million deal between a Tajik bank and a Hong Kong firm. That was the signing ceremony last Thursday involving OJSC Tojiksodirotbank, one of the biggest privately owned banks in Tajikistan, and Hong Kong-listed coal miner, Kaisun Energy, which will see Kaisun make a US$20 million investment in the Tajik bank. The deal was timed with a visit by a delegation led by Tajik ambassador to China, Rashid Alimov , to Hong Kong and the mainland to court business in the context of Beijing's ambitious trade strategy aimed at 65 countries spanning Asia and Europe. The "One Belt, One Road" strategy, the brainchild of President Xi Jinping unveiled in 2013, comprises two legs: the New Silk Road Economic Belt connecting China and Europe and the Maritime Silk Road connecting China with Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe. Xi also set up a US$40 billion Silk Road infrastructure fund to foster investment in countries covered by the strategy. The scheme is seen as China's equivalent of the post-second world war US Marshall Plan. It seeks to boost Chinese exports to other Asian countries and Europe amid manufacturing overcapacity problems on the mainland. It is also being used to counter the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a mega free-trade agreement covering 12 Pacific countries but excluding the mainland and Hong Kong. Kaisun, which has been mining coal in Tajikistan for local consumption since 2011, is probably the only Hong Kong company investing in Tajikistan, a landlocked Central Asian country with eight million people - slightly more than Hong Kong. "We were in the market even before the 'One Belt, One Road' concept was rolled out, so now opportunities flow not just to the company, but also to Hong Kong," Kaisun chairman Joseph Chan Nap-kee told the South China Morning Post. To Tajikistan, the deal is testing the waters for its foray into the mainland and paving the way for more cooperation - from exporting produce like lemons and pomegranates to setting up a stock exchange and offshore yuan trade settlement centre. Kaisun, according to Chan, is branching out from its coalmining mainstay to playing the role of middleman between interested parties in Tajikistan and the private sector in Hong Kong. Economic renaissance The importance of the "One Belt, One Road" blueprint was underlined by the Communist Party's fifth plenum in Beijing last week. The plenum vowed to boost the functions and position of Hong Kong and Macau while the country presses ahead with the strategy. According to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Hong Kong accounted for 57.1 per cent of the mainland's outbound investments, with the cumulative value standing at US$377.1 billion in 2013. Further, 80 per cent of the 65 countries located in "One Belt, One Road" countries can be reached from Hong Kong by air within five hours. The city's business leaders, academics and senior government officials broadly agree that the initiative can revive the city's economy, which is likely to see anaemic growth of between 2 and 3 per cent this year compared with 2.5 per cent last year. READ MORE: Can Hong Kong be a part of China's plan for global expansion? China Conference probes the future and possibilities of One Belt, One Road Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying tied Hong Kong's economic prospects with "One Belt, One Road", saying the city should be positioned as a "super-connector" in the game plan. He said Hong Kong's international exposure through its use of English and Chinese and its sophisticated financial system, legal system and well-developed infrastructure gave the city an edge in the trade strategy. "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hong Kong" is how Trade Development Council chairman Vincent Lo Hong-shui put it. He spoke about "a scheme that will change the world if it is implemented well". Thomas Chan Man-hung, head of the China Business Centre at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, saw the trade blueprint as "a boat Hong Kong cannot afford to miss". Stumbling blocks It is certain that opportunities abound for Hong Kong investors, but taking the first step can be difficult. Entertainment mogul Allan Zeman, who has witnessed Hong Kong's booms and busts since the 1970s, said doing business was like dancing the tango - it required buyers and sellers to work together. He said the question was how to attract buyers. "Some countries are less or more developed, some need China, some don't," he said. "They speak different languages, have different cultures, have different ways of doing business and different legal systems." Zeman said Hong Kong should figure out how to become a platform for "One Belt, One Road", and could start initially by focusing on a few countries. "We are close to the mainland, but the mainland is a competitor for us," he told the Post . "There is a lot of work; it is a long journey." READ MORE: 'I'm sceptical': Senior Chinese official's doubts over whether Hong Kong can play ‘super connector’ role with world A case in point is Kaisun's experiences in Tajikistan in the past few years. Chairman Joseph Chan said a key barrier was language, with most countries in Central Asia using Russian as a common medium. "I had to hire a translator on the mainland who can speak Russian and has some trade and business knowledge," he said. "I couldn't find any in Hong Kong." He also had to hire a lawyer in Russia who is familiar with the legal system in Tajikistan, which together with many neighbouring countries is modelled on Russia's system. Another key barrier is obtaining visas. To visit Tajikistan, which Chan does several times a year, he has to apply for a visa through the Tajik embassy in Beijing. Hong Kong SAR passport holders are granted visa-free or visa-on-arrival status by 152 countries, but they exclude most countries along the "One Belt, One Road" corridor, including Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, india, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. "Hong Kong has difficulties in becoming a super-connector," Chan said. "It is more realistic to leverage the city's experience and expertise in running financial and legal systems, management and logistics facilities." He added that Hong Kong could play a role in organising exhibitions and conferences, but the government should take the lead in easing the existing bottleneck. Chief Executive Leung said recently that the government agreed that the city's exhibition facilities - such as the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre - were saturated. He said he would consider expansion plans, which are being hammered out by the Trade Development Council. Change of mindset Thomas Chan, of Polytechnic University, said the government should build diplomatic ties with "One Belt, One Road" countries and seek bilateral trade and visa agreements. As for the city's entrepreneurs, they should re-engineer their mentality in doing business and widen their horizon beyond the mainland market, he said. "They should learn to shift from property speculation and original equipment manufacturing to learn to do business in these emerging markets," Chan said. "The government should take the lead in building ties with those emerging markets." Holden Chow Ho-ding, a vice-chairman of the progovernment Democratic Alliance for the Progress and Betterment of Hong Kong, warned there could be legal risks for Hong Kong businessmen. He cited a landmark Court of Final Appeal judgment in 2011 in a case involving the Democratic Republic of Congo. It involved a dispute over debts between the Congo government and American vulture fund FG Hemisphere Associates. The Congo government reneged on its agreement to be bound by arbitration as the vulture fund sought the repayment of US$100 million it owed and took the case to the Hong Kong courts. The Court of Final Appeal ruled that the Congo government was free from being sued in Hong Kong as Beijing had adopted a policy of absolute immunity and the country's foreign policy applied to Hong Kong. As a result, any disputes involving sovereign states and the mainland, even if they involved commercial deals, could only be resolved through diplomacy. "The Congo case has far-reaching implications on future deals done with sovereign entities," Chow said. "Investors should assess their risks when dealing with sovereign state companies."