CE’s pledge on connectivity

August 17, 2022

Chief Executive John Lee

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all, in person as well as online, to this Hong Kong Summit 2022.


This summit was last held in 2017, when it helped mark the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It's fitting, then, that today's summit is among the major events celebrating the Hong Kong SAR's 25th anniversary. We are also here to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the implementation of the "one country, two systems" principle - the unique constitutional principle that has powered Hong Kong's success for the past quarter of a century; a successful principle that will continue to propel us to a bright future.


That flourishing future will be forged with the full support of the central government. With Hong Kong's unique role under the "dual circulation" strategy, as well as the opportunities afforded us through the National 14th Five-Year Plan and the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong is destined to rise as a city of boundless opportunities.


HK competitive

Hong Kong is blessed, as well, in being one of the world's most open and competitive economies. The international talent that we have here makes Hong Kong a potent global city, an economy that straddles East and West, creating connections, and opportunities, in the Mainland, throughout the region and around the world.


Our outstanding connectivity in the region is manifested by the fact that Hong Kong joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, in 1991, and has, since 1997, continued to participate in APEC as a separate and full member using the name "Hong Kong, China". For more than three decades now, we have closely worked with APEC partners to boost regional economic co-operation and build a more resilient economy to cope with the pandemic.


The 25th anniversary of the Hong Kong SAR is also a new start for Hong Kong. It is time for us to tell the world about our distinguished achievements, with pride and confidence. That's why, in November, I plan to attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Bangkok. I want to reassure our partners, in person, of Hong Kong's firm commitment to regional co-operation, and tell them the good story of Hong Kong.


Our audience certainly includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN was our fifth-largest trading partner 25 years ago. Since then, our relations have only continued to grow and prosper. Since 2010, ASEAN has become our second-largest trading partner.


Despite the pandemic, merchandise trade between Hong Kong and ASEAN last year grew 21% over the previous year, with our bilateral trade hitting an all-time high of some US$160 billion.


As for services trade, ASEAN was our third-largest partner in 2020. In investment, ASEAN ranked fourth among Hong Kong destinations for outward direct investment, and sixth in inward direct investment at the end of 2020.


The ASEAN-Hong Kong, China Free Trade Agreement and related Investment Agreement were created for closer economic co-operation between us. The agreements' full entry into force, in February last year, have taken our mutual ties to another level.


Next month, in Cambodia, the Secretary for Commerce & Economic Development will meet with ASEAN's economic ministers to review the agreements' progress and to advance trade and economic co-operation between us.


Regional co-operation deepened

Then there's RCEP - the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement. RCEP's entry into force, at the beginning of the year, is a landmark development, testimony to the commitment of RCEP members to an open, inclusive and rules-based trade and investment framework.


Hong Kong shares the vision behind RCEP's formation, and we are committed to deepening regional economic co-operation and integration through Hong Kong's accession to RCEP. Joining RCEP would advance Hong Kong's status as an international trade centre, a continuing reality that is, of course, supported by the National 14th Five-Year Plan.


Hong Kong enjoys close trade and investment relations with the 15 member economies of RCEP. They accounted for more than 70% of our merchandise trade last year, and about 50% of our services trade and investments in 2020. Let me add that we have signed FTAs (free trade agreements) with 13 of the 15 RCEP members.


Hong Kong is also uniquely placed to benefit the member economies of RCEP, thanks to our well-established strengths and our connections to the vast Mainland market. That includes the Greater Bay Area, of course. The fast-emerging cluster-city development integrates nine dynamic cities in Guangdong Province with Macau and Hong Kong, presenting an enviable market of some 86 million consumers.


Hong Kong can also help a world of economies take advantage of the Belt & Road Initiative, built on infrastructure development and people-to-people ties, on connectivity and co-operation.


Since the initiative's launch by President Xi Jinping in 2013, China's annual trade volume with Belt & Road-related countries and regions, and its direct investments in these economies, have expanded significantly. Some 110 overseas Economic & Trade Cooperation Zones along the Belt & Road have helped businesses and investors embrace new markets and discover fresh growth prospects.


Hong Kong, rest assured, will continue to be a pivotal Belt & Road partner, providing unique services to realise long-term growth and prosperity throughout the region and beyond. These include providing project financing, professional services support, economic and trade co-operation, innovation and technology, capacity building, cultural exchanges and more.


Our annual Belt & Road Summit is taking place this year on August 31 and September 1. The summit attracts senior government officials and high-profile business leaders from countries and regions along the Belt & Road, and well beyond. It's through the summit, and its enabling of high-powered interpersonal ties, that regional and international infrastructural connectivity gets going.


President’s promise

In President Xi's important speech delivered in Hong Kong on July 1, he reiterated the central government's full support to Hong Kong in its effort to maintain its distinctive status and edges, to improve its presence as an international financial, shipping and trading centre, to keep its business environment free, open and regulated, and to maintain the common law system, so as to expand and facilitate its exchanges with the world. On the "one country, two systems" principle, the President stressed that this unprecedented innovation has won recognition throughout the world. The President said, and I quote, "There is no reason for us to change such a good policy, and we must adhere to it in the long run".


The President's message is loud and clear: the thorough and precise implementation of the "one country, two systems" principle is set to open up broader prospects for the development of Hong Kong. My team and I are committed to leveraging the strong national support to enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness and develop our economy. To achieve that, we will continue to need the advice from accomplished leaders like you all. I will deliver my first Policy Address in October and I welcome you all to tell us your views, so we could better develop our city.


Ladies and gentlemen, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe disruption to the world's economy and people's daily lives. The Hong Kong SAR Government will continue to accord top priority to fighting the pandemic. Our anti-epidemic strategy is based on five key policy principles. First, we're going to keep controlling the number of confirmed cases so as to ensure that our hospital service will not be overburdened and devastated. We're not going to "lie flat". Second, we will differentiate people's risk levels precisely and scientifically for proper control. Third, we have to balance the risks of the pandemic against the economic impetus, keeping our economy going. Fourth, we continue to reduce the numbers of critical cases and deaths. Fifth, we have to work hard on the protection of high-risk groups, including the elderly, the young and children, and people with chronic illnesses.


Anti-epidemic regime refined

Last week, I announced a key decision to implement the new "3+4" quarantine arrangement for arrivals from overseas and Taiwan. Under the new arrangement, travellers are subject to compulsory quarantine at designated quarantine hotels for three days, followed by medical surveillance for four days during which mask-off activities are prohibited, but they can go out.


Since I took office a month and a half ago, the Government has rolled out the new "3+4" quarantine arrangement for travellers arriving in Hong Kong, as well as other measures such as putting a halt to the route-specific flight suspension mechanism. I can assure you that I know very well the importance of Hong Kong's international connectivity and ensuring Hong Kong's international competitiveness, while safeguarding the health and livelihood of the public.


I'm pleased to note that the measures have been generally welcomed by the business sector, including many of you from the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, as well as the community at large. Of course, many of you want Hong Kong to resume normal travel with the Mainland. I hear you clearly. But I must stress that connecting with the world and connecting with the Mainland are in no way contradictory to each other. On the latter, we have been maintaining good liaison with our Mainland counterparts. We support and respect the Mainland's anti-epidemic strategy and maintain co-operation in joint prevention and control. My preliminary goal is to reduce the degree of inconvenience to travellers, without bringing about additional risks to the Mainland's epidemic situation.


Ladies and gentlemen, the global economy is still grappling with serious challenges, from the protracted pandemic to formidable geopolitical issues. In such trying times, it is all the more essential for us to work together to tap into the emerging opportunities in the new paradigm, and start a new chapter for Hong Kong together.


Chief Executive John Lee gave these remarks at the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong Summit 2022 on August 17.

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