Hong Kong remains relevant to nation

Updated: 2015-07-15 08:50

By Hong Liang(HK Edition)

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In recent years, more and more economists, politicians and commentators have propagated the notion that Hong Kong's economic development is becoming increasingly dependent on the "largesse" or generosity of the central government. They argued that since Hong Kong was losing its competitive edge against the major mainland cities, particularly Shanghai and Shenzhen, it would also lose its relevance without special treatment.

Such suggestions are not sound. The so-called "largesse" these alarmists are talking about includes turning Hong Kong into an offshore yuan trading center, the introduction of the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect program and mutual recognition of investment funds.

Of course, Hong Kong has benefited from these and other programs which involve closer cooperation and better integration with mainland economic activities. But they are not "gifts" in the way some people suggest.

Hong Kong has earned these "favors" from the central government with its status as an efficient and mature financial center which has a global reach. Neither Shanghai nor Shenzhen come close to matching Hong Kong in international finance and commerce.

Indeed, Shanghai is known to have harbored a strong ambition to becoming a prime regional hub for finance and trade. Not satisfied with one financial district in Pudong, it is in the process of building another one across the Huangpu River close to the historic Bund which was once home to many foreign banks and trading houses.

Moreover, Shanghai has established a free-trade zone to set an example in the free flow of capital and goods. But both domestic and foreign banks and enterprises in the zone are known to be still trying to figure out what exactly they can do without breaching national laws.

Shenzhen is faring no better in its bid for internationalization. The free-trade zone in Qianhai has yet to take off despite all the initial hype.

Hong Kong was the obvious choice to be the testing ground of an offshore yuan center in order to blaze the trail for full convertibility of the currency. There has been a large amount of renminbi floating around in Hong Kong for years. An offshore market would simply allow people to deposit their renminbi funds in Hong Kong into the banking system so they can be put to more productive use.

The Shanghai stock connect program benefits Hong Kong as much as it does Shanghai. It can help channel more foreign institutional investment funds into the mainland bourse.

The mutual recognition scheme can help Hong Kong consolidate its lead as the regional fund management center. But it can also offer mainland investors a relatively safe and well-regulated channel to diversify their portfolios to include a larger proportion of overseas assets.

These are just a few examples to show that Hong Kong has remained relevant to the development of the national economy. This is at a time when the government is seeking to speed up the pace of reform and the opening up of financial markets.

(HK Edition 07/15/2015 page7)