Hong Kong will overcome present challenges to play key role in China’s trade strategy, city’s leader Carrie Lam tells annual Belt and Road Summit

Tony Cheung

Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor remains confident the city will rise again, after more than three months of increasingly violent anti-government protests.

Addressing an international gathering of businessmen and professionals at the annual Belt and Road Summit on Wednesday, the chief executive acknowledged that Hong Kong is facing challenges posed by the trade war between the United States and China as well as ongoing social unrest.

But she put on a brave front and said at the opening of the two-day event: “We can find our way back to reasoned discussion. Hong Kong, after all, has been built, and rebuilt, time and again, on our indomitable resilience.

“Call it the spirit of Hong Kong, and know that it will see us through. It will ensure that we also find our place, and help you find yours, along the belt and road.”

The summit, jointly organised by the Hong Kong government and the Trade Development Council, attracted 5,000 businessmen and professionals from 60 countries and regions in Europe, Asia and Africa.

As Lam and her colleagues assured the foreign guests that Hong Kong would overcome its current difficulties, senior Beijing officials stressed their support for the city leader, agreeing that social stability and long-term prosperity were linked intrinsically.

Lam said her government would uphold Beijing’s “one country, two systems” principle, and the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, in bridging divides.

She said that under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, Hong Kong was an important global finance centre, cultural exchange centre and professional services hub.

Protesters join a march from Chater Garden to the US consulate in Central on Sunday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

In separate sessions, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the ongoing protests had not affected Hong Kong’s core competitiveness, including the rule of law, while Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said the government was taking action to deal with the deep political crisis.

“Hong Kong will continue to lead,” Cheng said. “Some of you may have a little bit of doubt about that, in light of what has been happening recently in Hong Kong, but let me assure you that while we have had our ups and downs, we have always come out stronger and better.”

Xie Feng, commissioner of Beijing’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong, said that for the city to succeed in international trade, it must defend the one country, two systems principle and the rule of law.

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“Some extremist forces in Hong Kong have … posed grave threats to public security, and flagrantly challenged national sovereignty,” he said.

“Some foreign forces have intervened and distorted the truth … No time should be lost to end the violence and chaos, and every citizen should shoulder their responsibility to defend the rule of law.”

He urged anyone who loved Hong Kong to stand up against illegal acts. Three other Beijing officials made similar remarks.

The commissioner’s remarks came after anti-government demonstrators swamped major shopping arcades across Hong Kong on Tuesday night for a series of “singing” protests.:

Glory to Hong Kong, the movement’s newest theme song, echoed through the malls while chants of “Liberate Hong Kong; Revolution of our times” and “Stand with Hong Kong” also erupted intermittently.

Fans attending Hong Kong’s World Cup soccer qualifier against Iran made their feelings known, booing the Chinese national anthem, March of the Volunteers. They also formed a human chain at half-time.

Some foreign participants interviewed said the protests would not affect their interest in doing business with the city.

Albert Oung, founding chairman of Hong Kong Myanmar Chamber of Commerce, said: “I still think Hong Kong is one of the safest places [to do business] in the world.”

Peter Mundinia, director general of Kenya’s National Highways Authority, said he was worried about the protests, but he decided to make his first trip to Hong Kong anyway because the Belt and Road Initiative was important.

“The protests are not sending a very good image of Hong Kong,” he said. “Hong Kong has been known to be very peaceful for many, many years.”

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Boris Tkatchenko, a project manager from the Greater Paris Investment Agency, said there was a common interest between the French capital and Hong Kong, as both want to become regional hubs of technology, finance and creative industries.

Asked if he was worried about the protests, he referred to last year’s “Yellow Vests” protests in France and said: “I know that in the media you can believe that it’s catastrophic, but we know that is not. It was important for us to come to Hong Kong to say that we are not afraid.”

Boris Tkatchenko, a project manager from the Greater Paris Investment Agency, said there was a common interest between the French capital and Hong Kong. Photo: Tony Cheung

Seth Tan Keng Hwee, executive director of Infrastructure Asia, a Singapore government agency, said it was in the interests of Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries that Hong Kong’s economy recovers soon.

“Increase in trade and investment in the region will just benefit everyone, so when one of the engines is firing less, it is a pity, because it affects the whole ecosystem,” he said.

Seth Tan Keng Hwee, executive director of Infrastructure Asia, an agency under the Singapore government.Photo: Tony Cheung

At the opening session, Wang Bingnan, China’s vice-minister of commerce, underlined Beijing’s support for Lam and her team, saying: “The motherland will always be Hong Kong’s strong backup in the storm.”

“The central government supports Carrie Lam in governing the city in accordance with the law. With the central government’s strong support, with the city’s government, and with Hong Kong compatriots’ efforts, I’m sure that the city can overcome the current challenges.”

Hao Peng, chairman of the State Council’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, stressed the importance of social stability in his speech.

“To improve people’s well-being and the economy, we need a harmonious and stable social environment,” he said. “Beijing supports Hong Kong in uniting people who love the country, and love Hong Kong, in overcoming this difficult time.”

Ning Jizhe, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that, apart from contributing to the Belt and Road Initiative, Hong Kong must also focus on pushing forward Beijing’s Greater Bay Area project, which aims at turning the city, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into a financial and technology hub by 2035.

Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng and Lee Jeong-ho

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