Belt and Road Summit: Hong Kong has Beijing’s backing to maintain unique edge with common law system, free business environment and global links, top state official on city affairs says

Hong Kong has Beijing’s backing to maintain its unique edge with a common law system, a “free, open and regulated” business environment as well as global links to play a bigger role in the Belt and Road Initiative, according to a top state official overseeing city affairs.

Chinese Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang was addressing the opening session of the two-day Belt and Road Summit on Wednesday in a pre-recorded message. Ding is the most senior state leader to speak at the event in Hong Kong, into its eighth year.

The virtual presence of Ding – the sixth-ranked Politburo Standing Committee member – at the high-level summit in Wan Chai marked the clearest public confirmation to date of his role as the state official in charge of the party’s Central Leading Group of Hong Kong and Macau Works.

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Ding said Hong Kong had done “a lot of work” in deepening cooperation with belt and road countries through taking advantage of the city’s strengths in professional services such as finance, law, and shipping, as well as promoting people-to-people and cultural exchanges.

The summit marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s plan to link dozens of economies in Asia, Europe and Africa into a China-centred trade network.

“We support Hong Kong in maintaining its unique status and advantages for the long run … maintaining a free, open and regulated business environment, maintaining the common law system, expanding streamlined and convenient international connections, and playing a more important role in building the Belt and Road Initiative together,” Ding said in his first speech on the city.

Officials including Hong Kong leader John Lee (centre) at the eighth instalment of the summit. Photo: Handout

He added that Hong Kong remained an important bridge and window connecting the mainland with the world, urging the city to deepen international cooperation through joining the RCEP – the world’s largest trade deal centred on Southeast Asian economies – as soon as possible and signing more free trade pacts with other economies.

Hong Kong had also realised better and broader developments through integrating into the national development strategies, Ding said.

Zheng Yanxiong, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and director of the central government’s liaison office is among speakers. Photo: Sam Tsang

Speaking at the same event, Zheng Yanxiong, director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, pointed out that the United States, despite expressing dissatisfaction with the belt and road plan, still benefited from Maritime Silk Road trading, which started some 240 years ago.

“After 240 years, even though the US has surpassed China in many aspects, it is still a beneficiary of the belt and road initiative. Its industrial and supply chains have been further secured due to China. China has provided popular, affordable and quality consumer goods. Many enterprises also rely on China’s market to survive,” he said.

“The US should cherish the opportunities brought to the world by the initiative rather than criticising and obstructing it. Any disadvantageous actions to the initiative cannot gain support and are harmful to oneself.”

He added that Hong Kong should grab the “huge opportunity” provided by the plan and strive to become an important hub.

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Launching the event on Wednesday, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu highlighted the city’s unique role in bridging mainland China and the world under the one country, two systems principle.

“We are expanding our cooperation with belt and road partners in a wide range of areas – from trade and investment, innovation and technology, to infrastructure development and many more,” Lee said, stressing the city was the “ideal centre” for such an ambition.

Lee pointed to opportunities brought by the Greater Bay Area, a national plan to integrate Hong Kong, Macau and nine other mainland cities into an economic powerhouse, and called on participants of the summit to also capitalise on the city’s “world-class financing” and professional services support to realise their projects.

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Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po also said the city was “determined” to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, under the initiative as he addressed participants of a luncheon at the summit.

He added that the city had a deep pool of international capital and talent, with an edge in services involving infrastructure financing, operations and risk management, with a trusted common law system and an independent judiciary.

Also among attendees was Guo Tingting, Chinese vice-minister of commerce; Gou Ping, vice-chairman of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission; and Xiao Weiming, deputy secretary general of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Hong Kong officials at the summit exchanged two memoranda of understanding with the mainland on water-quality management as well as environmental and meteorological monitoring, and signed another with Sri Lanka on fostering financial cooperation.

High-level officials from at least 10 countries are expected to join about 6,000 representatives from other nations for the event, organised by the local government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Around 20 memorandums of cooperation are also due to be signed.

The summit has returned to a physical format for its eighth iteration, after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to be held virtually since 2020.

City leader John Lee on Tuesday said the “record-breaking” attendance showed the international community had confidence in the city’s return to the international stage.


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