Hong Kong maintaining its international character is the “secret code” for it to thrive and contribute to the country, Beijing’s top official in the city has said.
Zheng Yanxiong, director of the central government’s liaison office in the city, also said on Monday that in the eyes of international investors Hong Kong was a “non-negligible place” because of its role in China’s modernisation.
The Beijing official was speaking at the first edition of the Hong Kong Financial Forum co-organised by the Post and the Hong Kong Economic Times.
“Maintaining its international character is the secret code for Hong Kong to thrive and the source of its confidence,” Zheng told around 300 guests at the forum, which was themed on Hong Kong’s competitive edge as a global city.
He said Hong Kong’s internationalism, represented in the city’s ability to communicate with the globe without language barriers, along with its cultural diversity and free flow of capital, had successfully transformed the city from a small fishing village into a metropolis today.
Such internationalism was crucial to Hong Kong’s position as a super-connecter in China’s modernisation, Zheng said.
“It will not and cannot change in the face of any challenges or storms,” Zheng said.
He added leveraging its internationalism was vital for Hong Kong to advance from stability to prosperity.
“To better integrate into the overall development of the country, Hong Kong must make full use of its international strengths,” he said.
The liaison office chief also said that Hong Kong making good use of its international ties was the “starting point” for it to serve and contribute to the country, which was advancing towards modernisation.
He said the city should strive to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest free-trade deal, and make further contributions on the international stage.
Hong Kong should also enhance its role as a hub for offshore renminbi business, serving the country’s efforts in promoting the currency’s internationalisation, he added.
In addition to actively taking part in national development plans such as the Belt and Road Initiative and Greater Bay Area, Zheng also called on the city to leverage its strengths in financial media and think tanks to establish branded financial forums, gathering top financial intelligence.
“I believe that Hong Kong’s international friend circle will only continue to grow larger, and its international stage will only become broader,” he said, while pledging the liaison office’s support for the city to achieve these goals.
The belt and road scheme is an economic framework designed to connect China with economies in Asia, Europe and Africa, while the Greater Bay Area refers to Beijing’s plan to link Hong Kong and Macau with nine Guangdong cities as a new economic powerhouse for the country.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu told the forum, held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, that since its return to the country, Hong Kong had become the only city in the world that brought together the strengths of China and the international community.
“Under the solid protection of the rule of law, Hong Kong has provided a safe and stable business environment for investors and entrepreneurs. In this free and open society, they can pursue their ambitions and realise their grand visions,” he said.
He noted that the first Saudi Arabian-focused exchange-traded fund (ETF) in Asia would be listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday. It has the largest assets under management in the world among such ETFs.
That type of collaboration was sufficient to prove Hong Kong was an important value-added platform for global financial connectivity, Lee said.
The forum also featured three discussion panels on topics related to new opportunities for Hong Kong, new growth potential and capitalising on the city’s strength.
During the panel discussion on Hong Kong’s growth potential, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po told the audience the city, as a small but highly open economy, could be significantly influenced by external factors.
He pointed to the Middle East and Southeast Asia as markets Hong Kong should turn to for future economic development as they would become important sources of the global economy in the future.
Panellist Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, a former Hong Kong justice chief, said international arbitration services were an essential component for the city to maintain its status as a financial and business centre.
Yuen, co-chair of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, said the 344 business arbitration cases the body handled in 2022 involved companies from 63 regions which were under more than 10 different legal systems.
“The judgments rendered by Hong Kong courts in relation to arbitration are often cited in other countries. This demonstrates that the arbitration precedents set by Hong Kong courts are recognised and carry authority internationally,” Yuen said.
Panellist Yu Feng, co-founder and chairman of private equity firm Yunfeng Capital, said Hong Kong remained a crucial connecting point for mainland companies expanding abroad and for foreign firms seeking to enter the Chinese market.
Siddharth Chatterjee, the UN’s resident coordinator in China, said Hong Kong had taken the first but firm steps towards green financing.
“The world’s first tokenised government green bond, to the tune of US$102 million, was issued here in Hong Kong in February,” he said.
“I applaud the commitment by the Hong Kong government, the local monetary authority, the local regulator and the stock exchange for making green finance a reality for both institutional and retail investors.”
Additional reporting by Martin Choi