Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng has taken to the international stage to promote Hong Kong’s unique advantages, underscoring the city’s free and open business environment along with its common law system. Addressing an international audience via videoconferencing at a high-powered forum on Wednesday, the top Beijing official overseeing Hong Kong affairs urged the city to take the initiative by promoting more practical cooperation and cultural integration with the outside world, as well as strengthening its professional services to better contribute to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. “We support Hong Kong in maintaining a free, open and regulated business environment, developing smooth and convenient international links as well as closer exchanges and cooperation with more countries, and expanding economic and trade cooperation networks,” Han said. “I hope Hong Kong will strengthen its professional services and build a comprehensive service platform for the Belt and Road Initiative. He was speaking to business leaders and foreign officials at the Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong, to discuss Beijing’s plan to connect more than 70 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa via a “New Silk Road” of railways, highways and ports. The vice-premier also said the city’s competitiveness in the international division of labour would be improved by maintaining its common law system, developing value-added shipping services and providing consultancy for projects under Beijing’s trade initiative. Han’s public promotion of Hong Kong’s advantages and its role in national development plans came a day after the Politburo, the Communist Party’s decision-making body, set October 16 as the commencement date of its twice-a-decade congress. He is the most senior state leader to elaborate on President Xi Jinping’s remarks earlier this year setting out a blueprint for Hong Kong’s development and the central government’s expectations. China denies belt and road ‘debt trap lie’ as spending tops US$1 trillion Han added that he hoped the city would take a more proactive approach to promote the exchange of cultures between China and the outside world, while emphasising countries’ shared values along the Belt and Road. “Hong Kong has long been an important window for cultural exchanges between East and West and has developed a distinctive cultural heritage,” he said. “We support Hong Kong in continuing to … play the role of a window for cultural exchanges with the outside world to promote cultural integration.” Former leader Leung Chun-ying wrote on social media that Han had implied Hong Kong should use its experienced charitable organisations to foster a spirit of collaboration among countries involved in Beijing’s trade initiative. Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the central government had recognised the city’s competitive advantages at the forum, with Beijing aiming to use it to link countries across the Belt and Road, as well as Eurasia. “Hong Kong has its comparative advantage to play a part in [the Belt and Road Initiative],” he said. “It can help with strengthening the country’s role while Hong Kong can gain further momentum at the same time.” Lawmaker Erik Yim Kong, who is also general manager of China Merchants Port, said the remarks by Han regarding Hong Kong’s potential contributions to the initiative suggested that the city urgently needed to accelerate the automation of port operations and development of maritime services. “Belt and Road projects will continue to play a crucial role in Hong Kong’s transformation as an international shipping centre,” he said. The Belt and Road Summit, held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, is an annual flagship event co-organised by the Hong Kong government and the Trade Development Council. Amid the city’s stringent travel restrictions, the two-day conference was held in a hybrid format. Plug Hong Kong’s brain drain or Singapore will poach top talent, experts warn Attending the event on Wednesday, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said there was a growing consensus among international economies that the centre of global economic activity had shifted to Asia. Lee said this was backed by China’s average annual GDP growth of 6.3 per cent and Asean’s mark of 4.4 per cent between 2011 and 2020, which were higher than the global average of 2.4 per cent. The former refers to the regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “Despite the pandemic, our financial system remains resilient to market volatility,” Lee said. He cited the capital adequacy ratio of Hong Kong’s major banks as exceeding 30 per cent, and the average liquidity coverage ratio that stood at 150 per cent – noting they surpassed international standards – as well as the city’s foreign reserves of US$447 billion (HK$3.5 trillion), equivalent to about 130 per cent of local GDP. “That ensures that our financial market is reinforced with the buffers and resilience necessary to counter global financial and political shocks,” he said. Lee pledged to lead Hong Kong in its continued practice of free market policies and multilateralism, as well as being a pivotal gateway for belt and road policies and the Greater Bay Area development. “In deepening collaboration and pursuing innovation at every level, markets open, business flows, economy and companies expand, the gains are mutually beneficial,” he said. The bay area ambition aims to integrate Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities in the region into an economic and innovation powerhouse rivalling Silicon Valley. Other speakers at the forum included World Trade Organization deputy director general Zhang Xiangchen, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Malaysia’s Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Lim Ban Hong and John Key, a former prime minister of New Zealand. Hong Kong leader vows to roll out talent drive in coming policy address Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po also attended the summit, where he said Hong Kong’s government was developing new policies to attract more foreign talents and enterprises to the city, but stopped short of providing any further details. “We warmly welcome businesses and talents from all over the world, Belt and Road countries included, of course, to come to Hong Kong to collaborate with us and grasp the enormous opportunities together,” he said. The Belt and Road Initiative – much touted by Chinese leader Xi – was launched in 2013 but has been beset with problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Official figures showed more than 180 countries and international organisations signed cooperation documents with China under the plan, with total trade along the route worth more than US$10 trillion.