I had the privilege of being part of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s high-level Hong Kong delegation to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing recently. Over 5,000 delegates from 150 countries and regions around the world attended the forum. Among them were 37 state leaders, including all 10 ASEAN leaders, demonstrating the level of interest in this major Central Government initiative.
In her speech at the event, Mrs Lam emphasized Hong Kong’s unique advantages, including our role as a gateway to the Mainland and our global standing as a financial hub. The Belt and Road is characterized by major infrastructure projects along the routes of the historical land and maritime Silk Routes. Mrs Lam pointed out that Hong Kong can be a financial and risk management centre to fund these developments.
This focus on massive projects, often led by Mainland state-owned enterprises, has given the impression that there may not be room for Hong Kong businesses, especially SMEs, to benefit from the plan. However, this is not necessarily the case.
The importance of smaller companies was highlighted at the forum by President Xi Jinping, who said: “The great rivers and oceans are deep because they are open to all trickles.” He also highlighted recent measures to encourage businesses of all sizes, including cutting tariffs and expanding market access for foreign firms.
We do understand that the Belt and Road Initiative has not captured the interest of the Hong Kong business community in the same way as the Greater Bay Area. It is vastly bigger, and Hong Kong’s role is certainly not so well defined.
But we should not shy away from the real and substantial opportunities that are being created. At the forum alone, project cooperation agreements worth US$64 billion were signed.
Hong Kong’s location is an asset for our involvement in the initiative. Many of our neighbours along the maritime Silk Road are ASEAN members, and the recent Hong Kong-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement is helping to open doors for Hong Kong companies to expand in the region.
Investors that choose to look further afield may also find fertile ground for cooperation. In the past couple of years, the Chamber has hosted businesspeople and officials from Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. They are keenly interested in the Belt and Road, and are also aware of Hong Kong’s role as a connector with the Mainland. At the Chamber, we will continue to research the opportunities to ensure the local business community does not miss out.