BRI and the Role of Hong Kong
Asia, Europe, and Africa are undergoing substantial economic transformation due to the implementation of various projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that originated in China. The significance of the concept and objectives of the BRI cannot be overstated. It is therefore necessary to inquire into the definition, conceptual framework, project details, and final objectives of the gigantic socio-economic initiative, which was proposed by China’s President Xi Jinping in 2013. This book, an edited collection of scholarly chapters written by different authors, is a major contribution to the study of the BRI. It does not only consider how the BRI is slated to usher in a new dawn in the business environment of Hong Kong; it also provides significant information on the strategic aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative as envisaged by the President of China.
“Belt” represents the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” which is an economic development corridor along the land route, following the ancient “Silk Route” and designed to connect mainland China with Eastern and Western Europe through the vast landmass of Central Asia, Russia, West Asia, and South Asia. Meanwhile, “Road” represents the “21st-Century Maritime Silk Road,” a sea route running from China’s east coast to Europe and East Africa, passing through Southeast Asia, West Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea. The book under review includes detailed research divided into three parts. Part I attempts to look into the strategy, framework, challenges of the BRI; Part II presents local perspectives of economic opportunities for Hong Kong; and Part III considers opportunities for Hong Kong arising out of involvement in the BRI projects globally. The book focuses on the opportunities and strengths of Hong Kong while bringing into limelight the weaknesses and problem areas quite unambiguously. Thus, it makes a strong case for Hong Kong as a “coordinator” for the multifaceted BRI.
BRI as a Game-Changer
In a profoundly insightful study on “National Strategy,” Dai Jinping and Cai Chimeng engage with the original dimensions of the BRI (Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road), new dimensions of the BRI (Ice Silk Road and Digital Silk Road), five aspects of cooperation between China and partner countries (policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bond), and the principles and mechanisms of cooperation around the BRI. Readers are further taken on an engrossing voyage over the economic initiatives under BRI in different regions – ASEAN, Pakistan, Middle-East, Central Asia, and Russia – along with the outlines of the strategic priorities for China in the areas of infrastructure, trade, investment, financial integration, and industry. Numerous challenges exist for successful implementation of BRI projects in more than 60 countries. In Chapter Five, Dai Jinping has skilfully deliberated on such significant challenges, especially the strategy of “one body and two wings” being articulated by the USA, which tends to strengthen simultaneously the geopolitical and geo-economic position of the USA in the existing world order.
The ”China threat theory” mentioned in Chapter Five needed further deliberation, since there exist strong cultural and geopolitical undercurrents in a few leading countries to counter China’s economic rise. Global media has been regularly churning out many news articles, reports, and video clips on the theme of “Chinese threats,” most of which are due to lack of understanding about Chinese civilization.
The efficacy of Part I on “National Strategy” would have been greatly enhanced by the inclusion of an annexure describing many topics: (1) post-World War II global economic and monetary systems as a direct outcome of Bretton Woods Conference in 1944; (2) the mechanism of global economy, where industrially advanced and wealthy “core” countries interact with industrially backward and poor “periphery” countries (i.e., the “world system”); (3) economic progress of mainland China from 1949-2012, which can be basically segregated into the pre-liberalisation and the post-liberalisation eras; (4) fundamental difference of the BRI system of economy with the Bretton Woods system of economy that created the core-periphery world system. Such an annexure would immensely help readers understand the wider context of how a successful completion of the BRI would fundamentally transform the post-World War II global economy, as claimed by the Chinese government.
Hong Kong’s Preparedness
As such, what makes Part II fascinating is not the thorough documentation of the modus operandi of Hong Kong’s participation in the BRI but, rather, in analysing the intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of the business backdrop of Hong Kong, which directly and indirectly would impact such participation.
Part II – “Opportunities for Hong Kong: Local Perspectives” – deals with themes like actions to establish organizations for control and coordination of Hong Kong’s involvement in the BRI; strategies of investment in BRI projects within and outside China; and how to utilise Hong Kong’s position as one of the world’s leading centres for financing and treasury management, trading and commerce, and professional services (e.g, legal services, accounting, engineering, advertising, management consulting, etc.). It has been pertinently pointed out by Hon Shing-fo and Song Sio-chong in their chapter that Hong Kong should act as the “professional services support center” as well as the “arbitration center” for the BRI.
While it is entirely plausible that Hong Kong will be able to extend its current position as a tourist destination and a talent pool in order to become a “diversified tourism platform” and a “training platform” – as envisaged by Luo Xing Hui in Chapter Six, and by Yeung Yue-man and Wong Kaichung in Chapter Eight – the proposition that Hong Kong can fit in the role of “emerging industry platform” – as envisaged by Yue Chim Richard Wong and Tim Wong in Chapter 7 – seems to be far-fetched. The Pearl River Delta Economic Zone – consisting of mainland cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, and Zhongshan – has grown into a world-class centre of emerging industry for innovative products and solutions. Instead of competing with that, Hong Kong can effortlessly position itself as the financial coordinator and professional service provider for such emerging industries.
Hong Kong “Going Global” on the Wings of BRI
In the first chapter of Part III, Chen Guanghan and Yang Zhu focus on how “Hong Kong services” and “Pearl River Delta manufacturing” can become the winning combination for promoting Chinese enterprises, finance, and culture to the world on the pillars of the BRI framework. Subsequent chapters by Zhang Xiaojing, Jiang Ying, Ma Lili, and Liu Li take the readers on a journey to four geographical-cum-geopolitical regions (ASEAN, SCO, Europe, Arab states). These four chapters deftly explore the contours of strategic position, potential for economic development, and cooperation between Hong Kong and the regions. The authors also offers policy recommendations towards the goal of enhancing cooperation.
Part III would be more comprehensive and explicit if the following topics are dealt with in the subsequent editions of this book: (1) A separate chapter on cooperation between Hong Kong and Africa in the Belt and Road Initiative, with a scope similar to the existing chapter on Hong Kong-Europe cooperation; and (2) A separate chapter devoted to how the government, financing agencies, supplier enterprises, construction enterprises, and professional service providers of the partner countries could participate in BRI projects.
Drawing on the works of academicians, researchers, and professionals of mainland China and Hong Kong, this volume examines various facets of the BRI as seen through Hong Kong’s eyes. That is a commendable effort, even if sceptics around the world would continue with their opposition to the BRI. Arguably, Beijing hopes to reap long-term benefits from the BRI primarily in two aspects: firstly, a large part of the existing over-capacity in the industrial economy will be utilised productively in the BRI projects, and secondly, a growing economic clout will indirectly create robust geopolitical standing amongst the BRI partner countries. However, much of the present world – stuck in poverty and simultaneously being torn apart by religious and ethnic violence – will only welcome the BRI as a panacea for many, if not all, of its ills, only when the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong gain legitimacy among common people across the world through transparency, inclusiveness, and a propensity to share prosperity.