UK’s Hammond embraces Belt and Road on China visit, says Hong Kong will have a key role in BRI

UK's Hammond embraces Belt and Road on China visit

HONG KONG – Beijing has made it very clear that Hong Kong will have a major role to play in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the special administration region’s top official said on Wednesday (June 27).

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam was speaking at a global forum set up to exchange ideas on the BRI, which she noted was picking up of momentum five years after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his signature plan to rekindle historic trade routes linking China to Europe and the rest of Asia over land and sea.

“This is a very important forum for us, to have firsthand information about the Belt and Road, including things which are of great interest to many of you – the projects, the policies, the financing and so on,” Mrs Lam said in her short address to participants of the forum on Wednesday evening.

The forum is an alliance of 110 organisations from 29 countries comprising international chambers of commerce, business associations, research institutes and think tanks to explore ways to collaborate in moving the BRI forward. More than 80 forum members across 24 countries gathered here yesterday (Wed)

Although many Asian and European countries have shown a willingness to participate in the ambitious BRI, there has also been concern in some quarters over whether the infrastructure projects are sustainable, especially those requiring long-term investments.

In April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cautiously climbed aboard in a bid to prevent the BRI from turning into a wasteful splurge on white-elephant projects by providing public financial management and training on debt risks.

One of the concerns the IMF had was that the BRI would drive up debt in countries where it was already high.

But many in Hong Kong’s financial sector see opportunities in these projects.

Mr Vincent Lo, chairman of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), said: “We all share a common goal of creating opportunities and benefits from the Belt and Road Initiative. Using Hong Kong as a commercial hub, the forum helps you make international connections and find partners to turn concept into business.”

The roundtable, which took place earlier in the day, consisted of two sessions, said Mr Andrew Weir, Belt and Road Committee member as well as global chairman of real estate and construction at KPMG.

Asked what the key takeways were from the discussion, Mr Weir said it was how the BRI was not just about infrastructure projects but represented “broader economic connectivity which gives rise to sectors beyond infrastructure and new geographies and new sectors”.

“The other big takeaway was how to identify the right projects, assess the risks and then package projects in a way which ensures they’re bankable and how that requires very early discussion at consortium level and with public bodies and investment agencies,” he added.

Besides risk management, participants also talked about ways to ensure international standards on safety, contracting and governance, Mr Weir shared.

On Thursday (June 28), speakers from Hong Kong, mainland China and countries along the BRI will share insights on intergovernmental cooperation and business opportunities for different sectors at the third Belt and Road Summit.

Organised by the Hong Kong government and HKTDC, the summit’s theme this year is “Collaborate for Success”.

It is expected to link some 5,000 participants with projects, services, businesses and investment opportunities.

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