Let us leverage our strengths for the Belt and Road Initiative

Updated: 2016-01-27 08:32

By Wang Shengwei(HK Edition)

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The Chief Executive's 2016 Policy Address has received a high overall rating despite some criticisms and challenges ahead. Specifically the city's participation in the nation's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), together with policies relating to the Belt and Road Initiative, deserve special attention. Although Leung Chun-ying's current term ends in 18 months, there are strong reasons for the SAR government to adopt key measures to implement its mandate for the benefit of Hong Kong's economic future.

First, we must bear in mind that other than the multinational professional firms, Hong Kong's business activities are mostly conducted by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Since these companies have limited manpower (under 100 employees) and restrictive capital (funded with less than tens of millions of Hong Kong dollars), their participation in the Belt and Road Initiative will foreseeably start from easier and smaller projects, and later may gradually expand to bigger, more challenging ones.

In this respect, it is particularly important for the SAR government to first seek support from the central government's related departments to define Hong Kong's role within the national framework for the multinational professional firms and the SMEs, respectively. An urgent priority is to avoid competition, but seek collaboration with provinces which have already established links with the Belt and Road Initiative projects. This is to exert our traditional and newest strengths - such as becoming the offshore renminbi center or assisting provinces' investments in the Belt and Road countries by providing professional services such as in airport and subway management. Meanwhile, we should also introduce cost-cutting innovations and develop Hong Kong's new advantages.

In view of the scale and complexity of the initiative, it does make sense for the CE to set up and lead a Belt and Road Steering Committee and Office to work out policies and strategies for our role in this grand initiative. The aim is to ease some of the concerns on issues like issuing of visas, resource coordination, opportunity identification, and visiting arrangements for Hong Kong business organizations interested in playing a positive role in the Belt and Road project. Besides, the committee will be responsible for promoting research work and coordinating the input of relevant government bodies such as the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, as well as providing liaison with the central ministries, provincial and municipal governments, and industry, professional bodies and civil society in Hong Kong. All these efforts will enhance the SAR's collaboration with and understanding of national policies. This will undoubtedly reinforce the city's development strategies.

In his Policy Address, Leung also announced the establishment of the Hong Kong Maritime Port Authority to consolidate the city's status as a shipping center. This was supported by the central government's 13th Five-Year Plan. This new authority should nurture all kinds of shipping industry professionals as well as provide advice to assist the mainland's "going out" strategy, by smartly utilizing Hong Kong's professional knowledge about international regulations. A positive result for Hong Kong would be the many job opportunities which need to be created for our professional people.

Moreover, Leung announced the allocation of HK$200 million to support the professional services sector in enhancing exchanges and cooperation with the Belt and Road countries, as well as a HK$1 billion injection to the Targeted Scholarship Scheme to attract students from those countries to come and study in Hong Kong. This effort will promote friendship with the people of the Belt and Road countries as well as the "soft power" of Hong Kong and the mainland. The CE encouraged schools to add related subjects in the student curriculum and activities, to help them better understand the Belt and Road vision and the involvement of so many countries. This is an earnest effort to broaden the worldview of the city's youth and encourage them to become outward-looking and more adaptable in a fast-changing world.

It is worth noting that Executive Council Convenor Lam Woon-kwong, who is known for occasionally breaking ranks with Leung, gave him a ringing endorsement this time in a recent interview with Cable TV. He defended Hong Kong's participation in Belt and Road projects, saying the city is the best-equipped, with the talented people needed to develop ties with the 60-some countries. Lam said Hong Kong should not just stand on the sidelines and let opportunities pass it by. He warned further: "Remember what made Hong Kong grow in the past? It's trade. If we don't do it, Shanghai will overtake us."

Let us leverage our strengths for the Belt and Road Initiative

(HK Edition 01/27/2016 page9)