Beijing will back Hong Kong's entry into world's biggest free-trade deal, China's commerce minister tells belt and road summit

The Hyundai Dream container ship unloads cargo at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals.
PHOTO: Twitter/Wightdolphin

Senior Beijing officials have warned against imposing sanctions on China and expressed confidence in Hong Kong's future as an international financial hub under the country's economic expansion.

China's commerce minister Wang Wentao, and Liu Guangyuan, commissioner of the Chinese foreign ministry's Hong Kong office, speaking at the sixth Belt and Road Summit, co-hosted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the local government, also emphasised that co-operation was essential in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Those who seek to impose sanctions and erect walls will eventually find themselves distant from opportunities and their own development interests damaged," Liu said. "At this critical moment when co-operation is needed … scapegoating others to serve one's own political interests is unacceptable.

"Covid-19 reminds us that all countries are in a community with destinies tied … we must abandon the outdated beggar-thy-neighbour policy and a zero-sum approach."

Giving an address via videoconferencing, Wang pledged to support Hong Kong in joining "as soon as possible" the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's biggest free-trade deal covering China and 14 other nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Belt and Road Initiative, China's ambitious plan for economic co-operation, aims to connect more than 70 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa through infrastructure investment projects such as railways, highways and ports.

Liu, a veteran diplomat seasoned in US-China relations and security issues, said in June that opposing external interference in Hong Kong was his top priority after the anti-government protests in 2019.

Read Also
Hong Kong seeking closer integration with mainland China, Chief Executive Carrie Lam says
Hong Kong seeking closer integration with mainland China, Chief Executive Carrie Lam says

"Hong Kong is ushering in a new phase, from chaos to stability and prosperity," Liu said. "Thanks to the [Belt and Road Initiative], Hong Kong enjoys huge co-operation potential and fresh development opportunities."

Wang said Beijing would support Hong Kong's wider participation in regional economic co-operation and expansion into new areas for international co-operation.

"[We will also back Hong Kong in] carrying out free trade agreement negotiations with foreign countries, play a role in APEC and other mechanisms, and further enhance its status as an international financial, trade and shipping centre," he said.

The potential for Hong Kong's development was also emphasised by Hao Peng, head of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC).

"We're standing at a new historical starting point,' he said. "The [SASAC] will continue to implement the principle of 'one country, two systems' to support the SAR government, and promote the central government to invest and start businesses in Hong Kong."

According to Hao, as of last year, 80 central enterprises have 2,915 operating units in Hong Kong with total assets of HK$3.8 trillion (S$658 billion), making the city a key player in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Ning Jizhe, the vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, also said Hong Kong could strengthen its competitiveness in being an international finance, shipping, and trading hub, by becoming more involved with the Belt and Road Initiative.

"China supports Hong Kong to be the international aviation shipping and logistics centre, and also supports Hong Kong to become the technology and innovation centre of the world," he said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.