Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying vows to step up exchanges with countries included in Beijing’s ambitious trade policy
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying underlined Hong Kong’s commitment to mainland China’s global trade strategy on Wednesday while warning of the threats posed by political developments abroad.
Delivering his final policy address, he said the city would continue to forge links with markets overseas while developing tourism, IT and other sectors at home.
“The government is highly concerned about the development of the external economies, which have been associated with uncertainties arising from the future trade policies of the new United States president Donald Trump and Brexit,” Leung said.
He promised to expand the Belt and Road Office he created last year and step up exchanges with countries included in Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” economic strategy.
The city would also take part in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Beijing-led alliance financing the strategy.
Domestically, IT companies would be encouraged through a greater land supply, along with tax and financial concessions, while the struggling tourism industry would be given a HK$200 million shot in the arm.
Leung has pursued Hong Kong’s role as a super connector between the mainland and 65 countries in belt and road strategy since President Xi Jinping launched the initiative in 2013.
The belt and road plan is aimed at building railways, ports, airports, roads and other infrastructure projects in 60 countries neighbouring China and in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Europe to boost trade.
Leung said Hong Kong was expected to join the AIIB in the middle of the year, and a government source said funding would be sought from the Legislative Council by the end of March.
Accountancy lawmaker Kenneth Leung estimated that the required funding could be anywhere between HK$10 billion and HK$20 billion as the bank had capital of US$100 billion.
However, he was worried that the ongoing political turmoil in the Legco chamber, which led to several government proposals being blocked last year, would hamper progress.
“I don’t think it is a bad thing,” Leung said, adding that despite the substantial entrance fee it would be a worthwhile investment to allow the city’s professionals to take part in large-scale projects in the region.
“But pan-democratic lawmakers may think differently.”
Leung said more staff would join the Belt and Road Office with the creation of a directorate and other permanent posts.
The business community welcomed Leung’s commitment to the regional cooperation blueprint.
“We fully support the government’s commitment and the priority it accords the mainland belt and road initiative ... [HSBC ] is committed to supporting this endeavour and the development of the planned AIIB,” Peter Wong Tung-shun, chief executive of Asia Pacific HSBC, said.
However, Victor Zheng Wan-tai, assistant director at Chinese University’s Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said the chief executive could have done a better job in conveying the benefits of the belt and road initiative earlier during his term.
Zheng said the government had only aggressively promoted relevant policies to the business community and professionals, while ignoring the general public.
“The public is not ready. At the end of the day, the government needs to have the support of the public to press ahead relevant policies,” he said.
The Tourism Board welcomed the fresh funding of HK$200 million in the next three years to upgrade its daily “symphony of lights” show along Victoria Harbour and four mega events including a wine and dine festival.
The government also announced mutual visa exemptions for nationals of Belarus and plans to relax visa requirements for Cambodian citizens. Various overseas exchange tours for Hong Kong students and film professionals to those countries would be arranged this year.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as:
Full speed ahead with ‘one road’ strategy