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Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 23:44

HK poised to benefit from B&R pole position

By Alfred Romann
HK poised to benefit from B&R pole position
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (center) has the attention of panelists at the China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable Luncheon at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Wednesday, as he addresses the forum about Hong Kong’s role to play in the national strategy of the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative. The Hong Kong government, Leung said, will continue to inch toward greater connectivity between Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland as well as other B&R economies. (P hotos by E dmond T ang, R oy Liu, P arker Z heng / China Daily )

Hong Kong is ideally positioned to reap the benefits of the three-year-old Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative to expand its presence in markets around the region and the world, says Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

This means Hong Kong is pushing forward with efforts to boost its role as a super-connector for the 60-plus economies that make up the B&R, focusing in areas that it excels in, according to Leung.

“Working together — the government, business and community — we Hong Kong will be the key link, the super-connector, for the Belt and Road, and for Belt and Road economies and the Chinese mainland,” he said. “We have been doing a lot of messaging on the mainland about Hong Kong’s (role).”

But there remains a caveat, he warned.

“Hong Kong is too small to pretend we can be all things to all men,” Leung said, adding that a greater focus on professional services — larger contributors to the city’s gross domestic product (GDP) than tourism — could serve Hong Kong well.”

Leung made the comments during the China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable Luncheon at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Wednesday. The event focused on “Hong Kong Super-Connecting the Belt and Road” and was attended by about 270 executives and opinion makers.

“It is a hugely ambitious project and we, members of the public and the media, are keen to see tangible results,” said Zhou Li, an editorial board member at the China Daily Group and publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific.

Leung said the government has continued to work toward improving financial connectivity, using the example of the Legislative Council approving tax concessions for corporate treasury centers.

Another push is the allocation of HK$200 million to help support professional services, with applications now open for non-profit projects to enhance competitiveness. The Hong Kong stock market now boasts connect programs with markets in Shanghai, with the Shenzhen link going live on Monday.

Connectivity possible

The roundtable also heard that the “super-connector” role of the Hong Kong SAR is also visible in other areas, most notably logistics. A world-class airport and port, both of which are among the busiest in the world, make this connectivity possible.

Hong Kong’s links to the mainland through the “One Country, Two Systems” approach facilitates access to both the mainland and markets around the world.

Despite these advantages, Leung said much work remains to be done and information will be the key.

“We need to step up our information-gathering efforts,” he said.

Hong Kong is also working to set up more trade offices abroad, adding to the five on the mainland and 12 elsewhere in the world, with Jakarta and South Korea likely to follow suit.

“We are, at present, underrepresented outside Hong Kong,” Leung said.

The sheer scope of the B&R Initiative continues to impress and open new opportunities, other roundtable panelists said.

“B&R is an ambitious initiative and promises to present a new frontier for growth at a time when growth is sadly lacking,” said Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.

“Without markets open there would be no Hong Kong as we know it today … that is why we need to defend Hong Kong as the world’s freest economy.”

For Hong Kong enterprises, the opportunities stemming from the B&R are likely to fall under two main categories. One is in infrastructure investment, which is likely for large companies like banks. The other is consumer goods, likely to apply to more small- and medium-sized enterprises.

“Hong Kong can facilitate enterprises to engage in investment and financing of infrastructure projects along the Belt and Road economies,” said Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce.

“Companies in both Hong Kong and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) can joint hands and explore together the opportunities.”

‘Lifeline’ for Hong Kong

Under the initiative, Hong Kong should consider what and who it is connecting, said Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, president of the Qianhai Institute for Innovative Research. He suggested that while geographic connections between the land and historic Silk Roads are important, the SAR should also improve the connectivity of trade in goods and services.

“The third question is ‘how to connect’,” Chen said. “Simply, you have to establish the connections before you can super-connect.” Considerations of declining trade numbers could also come into play, he said.

“‘One Belt, One Road’ is possibly a lifeline to revive Hong Kong’s entrepot position,” Chen said.

“Hong Kong is the last bastion of free trade.”

Mark Tucker, group chief executive and president of AIA Group, said some of the pieces to accomplish these goals are already in place.

“Infrastructure as an asset class is a natural base for insurance companies … We are wonderfully placed as a city, and with infrastructure.”

He said while Hong Kong has some catching up to do, he remains confident it can be achieved.

“Hong Kong is perfectly placed today as the major center for renminbi … the basis of opportunity to expand the renminbi market, there is no limit,” Tucker said.

And Hong Kong’s long-standing logistical strengths are also important considerations.

“Hong Kong has been the biggest cargo hub in the world,” said Ivan Chu Kwok-leung, chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, adding it was also the third-largest passenger airport in the world.

“For a long, long time, Hong Kong has been playing this connectivity and super connectivity role,” Chu said.

“The transport sector … is ready too and has been doing a fantastic job.”

He said more communication and publicity could help more people embrace the B&R and Hong Kong’s business model, understanding that the city has always been about more connectivity. The B&R could also be an antidote to the anti-globalization trend now visible around the world.

“Helping people — young people — understand the huge opportunities unleashed by the B&R is key,” Chu said.

HK poised to benefit from B&R pole position
(From left) Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, Qianhai Institute for Innovative Research president; Mark Tucker, group chief executive and president of AIA Group; Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce; Leung Chun-ying, Chief Executive; Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce; Zhou Li, an editorial board member at the China Daily Group and publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific; Ivan Chu Kwok-leung, chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways; and moderator Alexander Wan pose for a group photo during the China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable Luncheon held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Wednesday.

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