Le­ung finds big role in Belt and Road

As a vi­tal cog in the na­tion-led B&R Ini­tia­tive, ex­perts say it’s up to the Hong Kong SAR to cap­i­tal­ize on its ad­van­tages

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AL­FRED ROMANN in Hong Kong for China Daily

Three years af­ter the of­fi­cial launch of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, there is much greater un­der­stand­ing of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that it could gen­er­ate, Hong Kong Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying said on Wed­nes­day.

“Peo­ple un­der­stand the whys and the whats… we are now very much at the ‘how’ stage. How do we grab the op­por­tu­ni­ties for all?” said Le­ung. “Peo­ple who see op­por­tu­ni­ties un­der the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive are prob­a­bly in the si­lent ma­jor­ity.”

“It is such a vast ini­tia­tive with such wide ram­i­fica- tions and am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties for Hong Kong,” Le­ung said dur­ing the China Daily Asia Lead­er­ship Roundtable in Hong Kong.

The event fo­cused on “Hong Kong Su­per-Con­nect­ing the Belt and Road” and was at­tended by around 270 ex­ec­u­tives and opin­ion lead­ers.

“Hong Kong can play a piv­otal role in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive,” Le­ung said.

At a time of slow­ing growth, Hong Kong can lever­age its strength in fi­nanc­ing, ser­vices, lo­gis­tics and ed­u­ca­tion to act as a connector of the 60-plus Belt and Road coun­tries and re­gions and the rest of the world.

A key area of fo­cus is fi­nan­cial ser­vices, the open­ness of which has al­lowed Hong Kong’s econ­omy to be named the freest in the world for 22 years in a row, said Le­ung.

In prac­ti­cal terms, Hong Kong has been mov­ing for­ward in each of what Le­ung called the “five con­nec­tiv­i­ties” of pol­icy, in­fra­struc­ture, trade and in­vest­ment, fi­nan­cial co­op­er­a­tion and in­te­gra­tion, and peo­ple and cul­ture.

“Hong Kong could work as a team to help ‘Hong Kong Inc’ to bring this con­nec­tive force to bear,” said Le­ung.

Other speak­ers at the lead­er­ship roundtable agreed with the im­por­tance of lev­er­ag­ing the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive to boost growth.

“Hong Kong’s own suc­cess re­lies en­tirely on trade flows and open mar­kets. Hong Kong has be­come too in­ward-look­ing and less open in re­cent years. Al­most pro­tec­tion­ist, some­times,” said Stephen Ng, chair­man of the Hong Kong Gen­eral Cham­ber of Com­merce.

“The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive has caught the at­ten­tion of the busi­ness com­mu­nity in Hong Kong,” said Jonathan Choi, chair­man of the Chi­nese Gen­eral Cham­ber of Com­merce.

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 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 Con- ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre on Wed­nes­day. The event fo­cused on “Hong Kong Su­perCon­nect­ing 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.

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

Con­nec­tiv­ity pos­si­ble

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, un­der- rep­re­sented 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 medi­um­sized 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 su­per­con­nect.” 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 per fec tly 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.

PARKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying gives a speech dur­ing the China Daily Asia Lead­er­ship Roundtable Lun­cheon: Hong Kong Su­per-Con­nect­ing the Belt and Road at the Hong Kong Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre on Wed­nes­day.

CHINA DAILY

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying (cen­ter) has the at­ten­tion of pan­elists at the China Daily Asia Lead­ers na­tional strat­egy of the Belt and Road (B&R) Ini­tia­tive. The Hong Kong gov­ern­ment, Le­ung said, will con­tin

(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; Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying; 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.

PHO­TOS BY ED­MOND TANG, ROY LIU, PARKER ZHENG /

hip 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 nue to inch to­ward greater con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween Hong Kong, the Chi­nese main­land as well as other B&R economies.

Above and be­low: Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying ex­plains that, de­spite Hong Kong’s ad­van­tages and ex­pe­ri­ences, in­for­ma­tion-gath­er­ing ef­forts are seen to serve as the key to co­op­er­a­tion un­der the Belt and Road (B&R) Ini­tia­tive, and needs to be done to grease fur­ther in­vest­ments among B&R economies.

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