Hong Kong should play a bigger role in advancing BRI

Vice-Premier of the State Council Han Zheng delivered the keynote speech at the seventh Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong last week. In the speech, he expressed the central government’s strong support for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to make full use of its unique position and edge in participating and boosting the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative in the years to come. 

Han also said he hopes Hong Kong will continue to play a proactive and constructive role in pushing forward the country’s all-round development through extensive cooperation; strengthen its lead in professional services and build a comprehensive platform for professional services catering to the BRI in particular; step up personnel exchanges to advance common understanding among all nations involved in the initiative; and deepen its cooperation with the Chinese mainland and be more proactive in integrating its own development into the overall development strategy of the country. 

The four points of hope Han conveyed on behalf of the central authorities in his keynote speech focus on Hong Kong’s unique advantages that the city can and should give full play to with its participation in the BRI. Hong Kong should seize this great opportunity to expand international cooperation by joining hands with the Chinese mainland in assuming a bigger role in the BRI arena.

Despite its small area and limited natural resources Hong Kong has made remarkable achievements, thanks mainly to its ability to forge “connections” linking the mainland with the rest of the world. Since its return to the motherland 25 years ago the HKSAR has distinguished itself as an irreplaceable conduit for mainland capital to flow overseas and a springboard for foreign investors to access the mainland market, with tremendous achievements recognized around the world.

Han Zheng hopes Hong Kong will initiate pragmatic cooperation with the mainland in advancing the nation’s development strategy by playing its “super-connector” role to the full. To do so, Hong Kong needs to ensure social stability so that its business environment remains free, open and orderly. What capital fears the most is social unrest and what is loved the most is peace and stability. Hong Kong should always put top priority on social stability, so that both capital and talents feel safe and at home here. Meanwhile, a free, open and orderly business environment will allow Hong Kong to attract investors with relatively low tax rates and zero-tariff trade, with ongoing improvement of its “free port” status to boot.

Han said: “Hong Kong’s service industry is highly professionalized, with enormous room for further development. We support Hong Kong in upholding its common law system, developing highly value-added shipping services, continuously improving financial services and cooperation, so as to provide the BRI with tailor-made professional services in legal, shipping and financial consultation and support. It’s the best way to build up Hong Kong’s leading edge in the highly-competitive international services market.”

Hong Kong’s common law system is similar to many Western countries’ but very different from the mainland’s system. After the National Security Law for Hong Kong became effective on June 30, 2020, some Hong Kong residents expressed worries that Hong Kong’s law system might change. To allay such fears President Xi Jinping said in his speech at the public gathering celebrating the 25th anniversary of the HKSAR on July 1 this year that the central government supports Hong Kong in preserving its common law system. In fact, the central authorities not only have no interest in changing Hong Kong’s common law system but instead see benefits in utilizing this advantage to develop the country’s legal services sector. The national 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) also contains clear support for Hong Kong to become a “center for international legal services and dispute resolution”. That is why Han Zheng reiterated the central government’s hope that Hong Kong will strengthen its professional services trade as part of a growing comprehensive service platform.

Also in his keynote speech Han stressed, “We support Hong Kong to keep on participating in various academic exchanges with the mainland through expanding cooperation in education and technology innovation to attract more mainland students and scientists to study and pursue research in Hong Kong, so as to let Hong Kong fully play its role as a window of cultural exchange for the mainland with the rest of the world to achieve deeper understanding and greater inclusion.”

In today’s world we don’t find many cities as culturally diversified and inclusive as Hong Kong. Its civil and cultural legacies, built up over decades of East-West cultural coexistence, should come in handy for the city in playing a bigger role in the BRI project. Given the greatly varied levels of economic development, political systems and cultural backgrounds of countries that have signed up for the BRI, it will be a matter of course for Hong Kong to play its “super connector” role to the full wherever and whenever necessary. Mutual inclusion and understanding among all peoples of the BRI participant economies are not only a goal of the BRI to begin with but also the foundation for its success. Amid tremendous changes unseen in a century, the BRI is expected to play a great formative role but, because of that promise, is also viciously targeted by the US-led Western powers. They have been going all out to smear the BRI with all kinds of lies and false accusations as well as creating all sorts of trouble to disrupt its advance, making it more important to promote mutual inclusion and understanding among BRI nations, a job Hong Kong can and should excel in.  

The author is a Hong Kong member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.