14 March 2016
Seizing the Opportunities Brought About by “One Belt and One Road” and Seeking New Directions for Hong Kong’s Economy (1)
By Martin Liao (Legislative Council Member, Commercial (Second) Functional Constituency)
This year is the year when China starts to build the “One Belt and One Road”, and the steady progress of this strategic initiative is an important part of the “13th Five-Year Plan” that the country is currently focusing on formulating. The HKSAR Government should provide leadership and support to various industries to promptly capture the opportunities arising from the “One Belt and One Road” and seek a new direction for Hong Kong economy’s as a whole.
Provide leadership to industries to promptly capture opportunities
China has started discussions with the countries and regions along the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road on building a new framework for regional economic co-operation and constantly enriching the contents and approaches of co-operation under the initiative. Hong Kong indeed needs to participate as soon as possible in order to benefit from it. Therefore, following my request for the Chief Executive to obtain information at the government level on the latest developments of the “One Belt and One Road” for Hong Kong’s business community earlier this year, at the beginning of the current legislative year recently, I put forward a motion at the Legislative Council, urging the HKSAR Government to provide leadership and support to the various industries to promptly capture the opportunities arising from the “One Belt and One Road” and seek a new direction for Hong Kong’s economy as a whole.
The motion was eagerly deliberated and adopted by the Legco members. It is evident that despite the diverse political views within the Legislative Council, the vast majority of Legco members agree with the need to capitalize on the “One Belt and One Road” to seek a new direction for Hong Kong’s economy. In fact, because Hong Kong has been slow in economic restructuring over the years, some of its inherent advantages have gradually faded. Coupled this with the external economic uncertainties, Hong Kong is indeed facing both external and internal problems. As the “One Belt and One Road” spans across Asia, Europe and Africa, it will be the world’s longest economic corridor and largest economic engine. With an overall economic value estimated to be as high as HK$163 trillion, its development potential is quite amazing.
China’s “Vision and Actions” on building the “One Belt and One Road” have given rise to a very broad space for industrial development, including transportation, port infrastructure and e-commerce, among which are many industrial areas where Hong Kong has advantages. The problem is that, specifically, where should Hong Kong’s industries start?
Dare to look beyond
The Chief Executive has said that he will first study and then select the industries suitable for participating in the “One Belt and One Road”. I very much agree with this. However, more importantly, I believe that we should set our vision higher and farther, not only to find current opportunities, but more so be bold enough to seek a new direction for Hong Kong’s sustainable economic development over the next five decades or even longer.
First, the industries where Hong Kong traditionally has advantages can capitalize on the “One Belt and One Road” platform to expand into new markets, as well as to upgrade and restructure. For example, in the financial sector, as one of the three major global financial centres, Hong Kong not only has the world’s largest offshore RMB business, but also boasts the largest pool of RMB funds outside of China. In addition, it has a sound financial system, professional financial division of labour, highly transparent and diverse financial products, as well as an excellent financial regulatory system and discipline. It also offers first-class asset management services, bringing together a group of the world’s top financial talents. With these advantages, Hong Kong is fully capable of becoming the premier multichannel financing centre for companies in the countries along the “One Belt and One Road”. According to estimates, just infrastructure construction alone, the “One Belt and One Road” has an investment scale of US$1.04 trillion and transnational investment of about US$52.4 billion. Hong Kong is well-positioned to become a treasury centre of the “Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank” to provide financing for construction projects in the countries along the “One Belt and One Road”.
Strengthening of RMB business hub
In order to meet the huge demand for funds due to the “One Belt and One Road”, China has set up the “Silk Road Fund” and the “Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank”, which also brings huge financing opportunities for Hong Kong, helping to develop its bond market and improve its financial strength. In addition, with the increase in economic and trade exchanges among the countries along the “One Belt and One Road”, the RMB will be used more frequently and financing needs will be more substantial. Plus, with financial reform and opening up, China is striving to build a RMB-dominated regional monetary system in Asia and expand the channels for the RMB to flow back. This is positive for the development of Hong Kong’s RMB market and will strengthen its role as an offshore RMB business hub. The Financial Services Development Council of Hong Kong pointed out that if the RMB is included as a reserve currency, an estimated RMB500 billion to RMB 600 billion will flow out from China, and Hong Kong will be able to play a greater role in RMB capital projects and going global, taking the opportunity to develop into a financial market offering a full range of products and services. Besides, the “One Belt and One Road” spans across many Islamic countries, which could significantly improve the Islamic bond market that has been developing well in Hong Kong in recent years. The development of wealth management, fund management and privately offered funds in Hong Kong will also benefit with the “One Belt and One Road” boosting interoperability among Asian financial markets.
The shipping industry, where Hong Kong still has advantages for the time being, is also likely to scale new heights. As an international shipping hub, a goods distribution centre and a place where logistics enterprises gather, Hong Kong has a world-class international airport and port transportation management facilities, with flight and shipping routes spanning across the globe. Its efficiency in custom clearance for cargo is second to none. Hong Kong can help the regions along the “One Belt and One Road” to replicate inland port cities, and drawing from its experience in rapid custom clearance, it can also help the countries establish cooperation networks to promote cooperation in areas such as joint supervision, data exchange and mutual law enforcement assistance.
Professional support centre for “One Belt and One Road”
Commerce and professional services, which are also Hong Kong’s pillar industries, are likely to improve and form a Professional Support Centre for the “One Belt and One Road” projects. Last year, China surpassed Japan for the first time to become Asia’s largest foreign investor. Hong Kong has always been a platform for Chinese enterprises under the “One Belt and One Road” initiative. According to the Ministry of Commerce, as of end of 2013, the Mainland had made foreign investments of as much as US$370 billion through Hong Kong, accounting for about 57% of its total investment. However, Chinese enterprises are actually still at the initial stage of “going global”, and the “One Belt and One Road” is bound to drive more Mainland enterprises to “go global” and increase their overseas investment and M&A activities. Hence, they will have increasingly stronger demand for Hong Kong’s professional services. Hong Kong is Asia’s leading centre for professional services, and it brings together highend service personnel and professional services. Coupled these with its wealth of international experience, in-depth industry knowledge, rigorous professional conduct and enormous business contact network, Hong Kong can naturally provide the necessary legal, arbitration, mediation, accounting, risk assessment, management and consulting services for the “One Belt and One Road” projects.
This article is firstly published in the magazine CGCC Vision 2015 December issue. Please click here to view the full article.
(Remark: This is a free translation. For the exact meaning of the article, please refer to the Chinese version.)