Hong Kong courts Asean countries with Belt and Road advantages

Chief Executive Carrie Lam says city plays unique role in Beijing’s development plan thanks to preferential treatment from mainland China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 4:03pm

The preferential treatment Hong Kong enjoyed from the mainland would enable the city to play a key role as countries in Southeast Asia took advantage of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s international trade development strategy, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday.

The city’s top official signalled Asean’s importance to Hong Kong by arranging for her first overseas visit to take her to the region. The Post earlier reported that Lam’s first foreign trip will be to Singapore.

Singapore Senior Minister of State Koh Poh Koon said the Lion City and Hong Kong could “complement each other as the springboard and the gateway” to the huge markets of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and cooperate as locations for start-ups to grow their businesses.

“Singapore is a keen supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative,” Koh said.

Both officials were speaking at the Hong Kong Summit 2017, organised by the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, with cooperation with East Asia as the main theme.

Lam said the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) between Hong Kong and China provided preferential market access to Hong Kong service suppliers and tariff-free treatment for products of Hong Kong origin, which had given the city a “unique role under the Belt and Road Initiative”. International businesses established in the city could enjoy this preferential treatment, she added.

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The chief executive said that Asean countries had become Hong Kong’s second largest merchandise trading partner, with bilateral trade at US$107 billion in 2015 – behind China but ahead of the United States and the European Union.

Championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Belt and Road Initiative is a global plan aimed at boosting co-development by better connecting economies spanning Asia, Europe and Africa.

Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, said the East Asian economy was starting a new chapter in which regional collaboration was gaining importance.

“Hong Kong is taking the role of a ‘CIO’ – a connector, an investor and an operator – we can be the best business partner for our counterparts in East Asia,” Choi said.

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Speaking at the same forum, Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, touted the opportunities offered by the Greater Bay Area in the Guangdong region, saying it was becoming a world-class cities cluster that would “radiate” its effect onto Southeast Asia.

Officials from the region who attended the forum were also keen to promote their countries. Pan Sorasak, commerce minister of Cambodia, said his country was now peaceful and had enjoyed seven per cent economic growth over the past decade.

Dody Edward, special advisor to the Ministry of Trade in Indonesia, said his country was fast improving in terms of “ease of doing business”.

On the touchy issue of how to deal with risk in Belt and Road countries, Wang Yanzhi, president of the Beijing-founded Silk Road Fund, said European banks were already thinking of developing some risk-related financial instruments.