Hong Kong can strengthen relations with Iran by exporting more expertise and funding to the country, a top Iranian diplomat in the city has said. Iranian consul general Mehdi Fakheri’s remark came about three months after former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah travelled to the country’s capital, Tehran. Tsang described the visit as “the beginning of a profitable relationship”. For the past five years, mainland China has been the strongest trading partner to Iran, but Hong Kong investment in the Middle East’s second most populous country – and also its second-largest economy – has been limited. Hong Kong must seek sister cities to truly benefit from ‘One Belt, One Road’ Although local companies seemed to be “very much interested in the region”, they are “a bit conservative and cautious”, Fakheri observed. Tehran’s envoy was hopeful that this would change in the coming years. “Expertise and finance are the two key elements of expanding relations with Hong Kong. Not only in projects in Iran, because Iran is a country with a population of 80 million, but also the surrounding nations. We are talking about 500 million people,” he said. Fakheri added that Hong Kong companies could complement the role of China in Iran, financing infrastructure projects and bringing know-how in areas like transportation and services. On his visit last November, John Tsang signed a memorandum of understanding on economic cooperation with Iran’s economy and finance minister, Ali Tayebnia. Hong Kong trade presence needed in ‘One Belt, One Road’ cities Another agreement on promotion and protection of investment was in the final stages of discussion, and expected to be signed shortly, Fakheri said. Iran has been considered a key point in China’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy, which aims to build a new Silk Road or multi-nation trade corridor. In January last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was expecting a “new chapter” in relations with Iran. In the visit – a first to the Middle Eastern nation by a Chinese president in 14 years – the two sides agreed on promoting bilateral ties with up to US$600 billion (HK$4.6 trillion) in investments over the next decade. Fakheri said that the belt and road initiative could become an international economic organisation like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, with a focus on both economic and social development.