4th Belt and Road Summit explores promising opportunities

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More than 5,000 political and business elites from over 60 countries and regions attended the fourth Belt and Road Summit, with the theme “Creating and Realising Opportunities,” to examine the new opportunities arising from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI, dubbed as the “project of the century,” is a significant development strategy launched by the Chinese government in 2013 to promote economic cooperation among countries along the proposed Belt and Road routes. It has been designed to enhance the orderly free flow of economic factors and the efficient allocation of resources, and is intended to further market integration and create a regional economic cooperation.

The two-day summit, jointly organized by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), brought together more than 80 government officials and business leaders across the globe who shared the latest opportunities and developments related to BRI, as well as the significant role of Hong Kong as a window of opportunity to the said initiative.

The BRI, according to HKTDC Chairman Peter Lam, has made significant progress since it was launched six years ago. He said that more than 130 countries have signed over 180 relevant cooperation agreements under the platform, with new projects, such as railways and roads, ports and power plants beginning in numerous countries around the world.

New opportunities are also opening up as the initiative goes beyond infrastructure to cover finance, technology, manufacturing, logistics, trading and many other sectors, Mr. Lam added.

The HKTDC chairman also underscored the importance of global cooperation to the success of large-scale projects and investments in the Belt and Road, especially in the face of economic uncertainty and global instability.

“Governments, investors and businesses need to work together to assess risks and set goals. They need to find projects and make connections. And they also need to make the right decisions and look for the right partners. Hong Kong – and today’s summit – are the ideal platforms for you to do so,” Mr. Lam said.

Hong Kong as a gateway to BRI

HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam, in her opening remarks, also highlighted the unique advantages of Hong Kong as the gateway to the Belt and Road and its manifold prospects and possibilities.

“The connectivity and cooperation promoted by the Belt and Road has become increasingly prominent in today’s complex social and business environment. Hong Kong, China’s most competitive and international city, will play a significant role in complementing this strategic direction. I am confident as well that Hong Kong can create opportunities in capacity building, green finance, professional services, and business matching,” Ms. Lam said.

Despite the challenges Hong Kong currently faces from the trade war between the United States and China to the ongoing social unrest, Ms. Lam remains optimistic that the city will be able to rise again.

“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,” Ms. Lam said.

Meanwhile, Gao Yunlong, vice-chairman of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the all-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, said in a special address that the BRI suits the need of future development, especially now that the world is moving forward quickly.

“We have common vision, let’s continue to develop Belt and Road so we will have a better future for the humankind,” Mr. Yunlong said.

Hao Peng, chairman of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council; Ning Jizhe, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission; Wang Bingnan, vice-minister of the Ministry of Commerce; and Xie Feng, commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also delivered their keynote speeches during the summit’s opening ceremony, focusing on the significance of the BRI in driving the steady growth of China’s national economy and examined Hong Kong’s vital role in the process.

Areas of connectivity under BRI, global policy

On the first day of the summit, a plenary session titled “Policy Dialogue Session: Facilitating Regional Co-operation through Five Areas of Connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative” was held, with Edward Yau, secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of the HKSAR, as the panel chair.

Mr. Yau was joined by Abdulla Al Saleh, undersecretary of the Foreign Trade and Industry at the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Economy; Sok Sopheak, secretary of state at the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce; and Gabor Gion, minister of state for Financial Policy Affairs at the Hungarian Ministry of Finance, as the speakers, who talked about policy landscapes and investment opportunities in their respective economies.

The five areas of connectivity under the BRI comprise policy coordination, facilities connectivity, trade and investment, financial integration, and people-to-people ties.

Mr. Al Saleh noted that all these key areas are important. “We all need to engage these areas together, but we need to prioritize these areas according to the development of that country,” he added.

Meanwhile, in the “Second Policy Dialogue Session and Luncheon,” Dana Meager, deputy minister of Finance and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Government for Negotiations on Belt and Road Initiative; Thaung Tun, union minister for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations and chairman of Myanmar Investment Commission; and Angelo Taningco, assistant secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry of the Philippines, discussed the relationship between the BRI and global policy.

Mr. Tun shared that Myanmar, which used to be isolated and closed for several decades, is now opening its doors for foreign investments. In fact, the establishment of the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations last November was one of the indications that the country would like to engage with its neighbor countries and with other countries across the globe, he said. Mr. Tun believes that the BRI has a significant role to play in facilitating free trade.

“We would like to work together with our neighbors and have the opportunity to level up the playing field, so that we can all prosper,” he said.

Similarly, Ms. Meager has high hopes that the initiative could help boost trade. She said that further economic integration via the BRI is the way to get rid of the impact of US-China trade war.

Mr. Taningco, on the other hand, highlighted the opportunities of BRI for the Philippines, especially with diversifying into non-traditional export markets. The national government, according to him, is now establishing a closer relationship with China. Late last year, the two countries signed a memorandum understanding on Belt and Road cooperation, signaling its serious commitment when it comes to participating in the BRI.

“All of these efforts when it comes to participating in BRI from our side have resulted in huge economic benefits, especially on trade and also on investment,” Mr. Taningco said.

Making belt and road projects viable

In a plenary session titled “Investing for Value – Making Belt and Road Projects Viable,” six panelists, including Cheah Cheng Hye, co-chairman and co-chief investment officer of Value Partners Group; Dhanin Chearavanont, senior chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group; Victor Chu, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of First Eastern Investment Group; Li Xiaopeng, chairman of China Everbright Group Limited; Mochtar Riady, founder and chairman of Lippo Group; and Song Zhiping, chairman of China National Building Material Group Co., Ltd., shared their investment philosophies and experiences. Some of the speakers also highlighted how Hong Kong had played a critical role on their way to success.

“When we make an investment in the local economy, we have to make sure that we are making value to the economy,” Mr. Chu said. Moreover, investors, he said, have to be very meticulous when it comes to research and finding a good local partner. Aligning mutual interest is also the key, he added.

For his part, Mr. Chearavanont shared that the BRI is about sharing common benefits. It opens a lot of opportunities and hardworking investors can reap the rewards, he said.

Insightful discussions continued on the second day of the summit with a plenary session titled “Collaboration in Greater Bay Area for Belt and Road Success.” Speakers, including Chen Shuang, director and deputy general manager of China Everbright Holdings Co., Ltd.; Victor Fung, group chairman of Fung Group; Gao Yingxin, vice-chairman and chief executive of Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited; Hu Zhanghong, CEO of Greater Bay Area Homeland Investments Limited; Thomas So, past president and chairman of Belt and Road Committee of The Law Society of Hong Kong; and Zheng Jianrong, director general of Department of Commerce of Guangdong, conversed on the opportunities and challenges related to Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development, and the role the Hong Kong will play to the success of the said development, together with the BRI.

Several thematic breakout sessions also took place simultaneously during the two-day event, focusing on the areas of sustainable finance, legal arbitration, risk management, investment cooperation opportunities, fintech, geopolitical risks, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and the young generation.

Opportunities for SMEs and the youth

Yang Tao, founder and CEO of Kilimall International Ltd, told BusinessWorld in an interview that the BRI also involves opportunities for SMEs. To capture these opportunities, SMEs, he said, must harness digitization and focus on localization.

In terms of positioning their business locally, Mr. Tao said that SMEs should understand the culture of a certain country and learn how they will benefit from the local community. He also underscored the need to take advantage of the e-commerce because of the efficiency it offers.

Meanwhile, the BRI also brings a great deal to the young generation. This was consistently mentioned in different sessions during the summit. Joseph Chan, founder and CEO of AsiaPay, believes that the BRI will allow young people to gain a much broader skill sets and experiences.

“Because of these infrastructures, these policies in place, young generations have a lot more opportunities to exchange, to learn [and] to play a part to further the growth of economical exchange, economical developments, business development and also cultural exchange,” Mr. Chan told BusinessWorld in an interview after the thematic breakout forum titled “Belt and Road Opportunities for the Young Generation.”

Mr. Chan noted that the young people are the ones who will shape the future of the countries.

In addition to plenary sessions and thematic breakout sessions, the 2019 Belt and Road Summit also featured One-to-one Business Matching Meetings and Project Pitching Sessions. This year’s summit received more than 240 investment projects, focusing on urban development; energy, natural resources and public utilities; and transport and logistics infrastructures.