HK to sign Belt and Road deal
2017-09-18, WILLA WU in Hong Kong

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Hong Kong’s chief executive, announced on Sept 11 that the government will sign a new cooperation agreement with the Chinese mainland to give full play to the city’s unique advantages under the One Country, Two Systems principle in support of the Belt and Road Initiative, a China-led plan to revive the historical Silk Road trading routes.

Lam noted the agreement would cover key areas including finance, capital raising, infrastructure facilities, trade and investment facilitation and dispute resolution, as well as forging people-to-people bonds.

She described the new deal as another milestone after the mainland and Hong Kong signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement in 2003. 

Lam said both sides were in “earnest” discussion on details of the cooperation framework and agreed to sign it at the earliest opportunity. 

She made the announcement while giving a keynote speech at the opening of the Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong. Lam added that she was confident Hong Kong enterprises and talent could fully engage in the initiative and reap many benefits through the new agreement.

Lam also discussed other actions Hong Kong has taken to turn the initiative into reality. One of them is that the government will take additional roles as a facilitator and promoter, and will adopt fiscal policies involving wise investment and competitive tax policy to support the Belt and Road. 

Another effort that the Hong Kong government has made is the successful conclusion of the negotiations for a free trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Lam said. 

It will be signed in November, she added. She said Hong Kong’s cooperation with ASEAN would be further expanded, as the 10 member countries not only enjoy a strategic position for the Belt and Road but also have the potential to be regional and global economic drivers.

Looking ahead, Lam said Hong Kong would find enormous opportunities in being a window to attract investment to Belt and Road countries and regions. She cited the recent report of the Asian Development Bank which estimated that the annual infrastructure investment requirement in Asia between 2016 and 2030 would be about $1.7 trillion — double the current level in the region. 

Besides, Hong Kong will also take a pivotal role in facilitating the Belt and Road because it excels in a variety of professional services. These include investment and risk assessment, research, financing, insurance, accounting, legal services and arbitration — which are all essential to the initiative.

Ning Jizhe, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the commission would give its firm support to Hong Kong to capitalize on the initiative. He noted that the support would include providing policy assistance, supporting facilities and convenience for mutual cooperation. 

Gao Yan, vice-minister of commerce, and Xie Feng, commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who also spoke at the opening ceremony, both voiced their support for Hong Kong’s vital role in the Belt and Road. 

The Belt and Road Summit, a full-day event organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, was divided into several panel discussions with topics covering government policies, infrastructure financing, dispute resolution and opportunities for young entrepreneurs. The inaugural event was in May last year, during which Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, urged Hong Kong to grasp the opportunities presented by the Belt and Road in a timely manner. 

In a panel discussion, themed Using Hong Kong as a Platform for Infrastructure Dispute Resolution, legal veterans welcomed the judicial independence in the city, which they held as a merit favoring Hong Kong as the dispute resolution center. 

Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, chairman of the Asian Academy of International Law, said the reputation and integrity of judicial independence in Hong Kong has won international recognition and is firmly backed by evidence. She said that she is convinced it will remain strong in the city.

She noted that the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report gave Hong Kong 6.4 out of 7 in the field of judicial independence in the past two years.

This year’s summit attracted more than 2,600 participants from about 50 countries and regions, including government leaders, policymakers, project owners and investors. 

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