Ahead of her maiden overseas trip, Hong Kong’s leader is hoping to strengthen the city’s ties with its Southeast Asian neighbours and learn from competitor Singapore. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor confirmed on Sunday that a long-awaited free-trade agreement between Asean and Hong Kong was on track to be signed by the end of this year. She also hinted that she would like to visit all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the coming years. Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam faces her biggest test yet, with joint checkpoint row set to spark two wars Lam is to visit Singapore on Wednesday to meet senior government officials and attend the opening of an exhibition featuring the works of Lee Fook Chee, a Singapore-born photographer who made his name in Hong Kong. On Thursday, she will proceed to Bangkok. She is due to meet Thai government officials and speak to Thai business leaders as well as other Asean members on Friday. I picked the two countries to highlight Hong Kong’s relationship with Asean Carrie Lam, on visiting Singapore and Thailand Asked on Sunday to elaborate on her choice of destinations, Lam said: “I picked the two countries to highlight Hong Kong’s relationship with Asean ... which is Hong Kong’s second largest trading partner. “Three years ago, we started the discussion on our free-trade agreement, and my colleagues as well as Asean leaders have told me they are optimistic that the deal can be signed by the end of this year.” Lam added that since Hong Kong had a close relationship with Singapore, she would like to learn from the city state during her short stay. “Sometimes the two cities compete with each other, and sometimes we learn from each other,” she said. “I would like to take a look at its latest developments in art and culture.” The Philippines’ trade minister, Ramon Lopez, had previously revealed that a long-awaited free-trade agreement between Asean and Hong Kong was expected to be signed in November. Hong Kong lawmakers approve extra cash for education after angry final session One of Lam’s next overseas destinations will be London, where she is to attend the Trade Development Council’s promotional tour in September. Speaking on a Commercial Radio show on Sunday, the chief executive revealed she would announce the appointment of undersecretaries “in a few days” and that her maiden policy address in October would be themed on “hope and happiness”. “I hope that it can make people hopeful, and feel that living in Hong Kong is a happy experience,” she said. Hong Kong pan-democrats warn of Legislative Council turmoil Lam added that while she had been reaching out to political parties for their policy recommendations, she had yet to fix a meeting date with pan-democratic groups. Earlier in July, local officials made it clear the government would not compromise the rule of law to mend fences with opposition lawmakers alienated by the recent disqualification of four members of their camp. Lam reiterated that her efforts to reconcile with pan-democrats had been affected by the ruling, and said she could only pledge that her administration had no further plan to launch legal battles against any lawmaker.