Hong Kong can be a ‘powerful connection point’ for Belt and Road countries, city’s chief executive tells business summit

Carrie Lam and other city officials keen to stress the advantages Hong Kong can offer as part of Greater Bay Area plan, but businesspeople say more can be done

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 11:26pm

Hong Kong’s leaders were out in force on Thursday to promote the city’s advantages to capitalise on two ambitious technology and trade initiatives, but businesspeople urged the government to offer them more incentives.

The city was poised to become part of a tech corridor of 11 cities in the Greater Bay Area, which could then be a “powerful connection point” to the larger global Belt and Road trade initiative, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said at the Belt and Road Summit, an annual gathering of officials and businesspeople.

Lam, along with two other ministers, emphasised Hong Kong’s role in connecting global businesses and championing free trade, pointing out that the “one country, two systems” model of governance was its “singular most important advantage”.

Under the principle, Beijing guaranteed Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy after it was handed over from British rule in 1997.

But even as Lam and the city’s financial and commerce chiefs highlighted what Hong Kong had to offer in areas such as finance and innovation, other local panellists said the government could do more to help Hong Kong businesses better position themselves amid intense international competition.

In one example, tech start-up chiefs said it had not been smooth sailing for entrepreneurs. One of them proposed that officials help smaller firms strike deals with big companies and subsidise their research to improve their technology.

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More than 5,000 business and political leaders from Asia, Europe and Africa, including top officials from Beijing, London and Bangkok, as well as 100 exhibitors and managers of about 500 projects seeking partners attended the third edition of the summit.

The meeting takes off from the “Belt and Road Initiative”, rolled out by President Xi Jinping in 2013 for China to boost trade and infrastructure links with more than 60 countries across three continents.,

Lam, who recently wrapped up an official trip around Europe, said the initiative was “a common focus among the many people” she met, but she said attention should also be paid to “another major national development priority”.

“The Bay Area …will serve as a powerful connection point for the Belt and Road. A cluster of nine flourishing cities in Guangdong province together with Hong Kong and Macau, the Bay Area unites a … combined GDP of some US$1.5 trillion, which is comparable to Australia’s GDP,” she said.

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“[It] is expected to rise as a global centre for finance, high-end services and innovation and technology.”,

The Greater Bay Area plan was previously regarded by politicians as China’s bid to rival nations such as the United States and Japan. Lam’s remarks underscored officials’ efforts to highlight its global potential.

At the summit’s lunch plenary, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po also said: “In light of the tremendous synergies of Hong Kong and the vibrant tech sector in Shenzhen and advanced manufacturing bases… in the region, we believe the Bay Area possesses the combined advantages of the New York Bay Area and the San Francisco Bay Area.”

At smaller discussions held as part of the summit, panellists revealed the other challenges they faced in doing business across borders.

Abel Zhao, CEO of TravelFlan, which allows travellers to customise their travel experience using artificial intelligence technology, cited different regulatory systems as an issue.

“In certain parts of the world, anyone who registers as a tour guide on our partners’ websites can guide customers, but for neighbouring countries, apparently it’s illegal to do that,” he said, without naming the countries.

At a session with female entrepreneurs, Winnie Chiu, president of Hong Kong-based hotel operator Dorsett Hospitality, described how more women were now joining the top echelons of the business world as board members or senior executives in Hong Kong and the mainland. They hoped the trend would extend to other Belt and Road countries.

On Thursday, Lam also witnessed the signing of a free-trade agreement between Hong Kong and Georgia, withcommerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah saying the city would continue to “build more alliances of like-minded free traders” amid looming trade disputes.