Tim Edwards

Tim Edwards

Tim Edwards

We forget, as we are dazzled by the technological progress of modern China, how ancient is this civilisation, and how it has reached out spectacularly to the world at various times and from various places, across millennia. This is another of those times. This time the place is Hong Kong, still the great business city of Asia, the ‘super-connector’ between China and the rest of the planet. At one of the world’s most exciting crossroads, Hong Kong’s moment has come once again.

During the Han dynasty 2,000 years ago, the fabled Silk Road was a network of trade routes that spanned continents and bestrode oceans; it grew social and commercial bonds between Asia, Europe and Africa, as the world discovered silk (and the Chinese the size and speed of the horses they found outside the Middle Kingdom).

This ‘One Belt, One Road’ (the Belt is an infrastructural girdle on land, the Road is now maritime) will present Hong Kong with a prodigious opportunity to enhance its status as China’s most ecumenical city.

Now, the Government in China is building a new silk road. It will link China’s economy with one third of the world’s nations and two-thirds of its population. This ‘One Belt, One Road’ (the Belt is an infrastructural girdle on land, the Road is now maritime) will present Hong Kong with a prodigious opportunity to enhance its status as China’s most ecumenical city, a glitteringly modern centre of finance and entrepreneurialism.

Geographically, what will it look like? Imagine two arcs, swinging north-west and south-west from Hong Kong. The northern arc traverses China and Central Asia and reaches down into Europe. The southern arc leaves the famously fragrant harbour and travels along the periphery of the Pacific Asian nations before crossing the Indian Ocean. It takes in the Middle East as well as East and North Africa before reaching the Mediterranean, where both arcs converge in the middle of Europe.

The Belt and Road Summit held on May 18, 2016 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre for movers and shakers from government and business to exchange ideas about how to tap a world of new opportunities.

The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road account for 30% of global GDP, and around 33% of the world’s merchandise trade. By 2050, the adjacent countries and regions will be generating 80 per cent of global GDP growth. Signatory nations will have preferential access to the massive markets of mainland China, through core cities and key ports, along six international economic co-operation corridors.

Making this possible will be some of the greatest infrastructure of this century: an international railway line running from China’s Jiangsu province to Rotterdam is one example, but there are many: the Steppe Road across Mongolia, nine cross-national highways along the Greater Mekong River, oil and gas pipelines, fibre optic networks, ports upgraded and airports built. The expertise in Hong Kong is already proving vital for the Jakarta – Bandung high speed railway, the Lopburi Solar Power plant in Thailand, the Besar sea-crossing bridge in Brunei and Bangladesh’s first undersea tunnel.

Making this possible
will be some of the greatest infrastructure of this century.

Where Hong Kong not only comes into, but to the fore of this enormous initiative, is in policy co-ordination, facilities connectivity, financial integration, and the always crucial bonding between peoples. Huge co-operation is required, a deep knowledge of trade, investment, regional development, and how to monitor financial risks. Hong Kong is home to many multinational companies, and its ‘global city’ credentials are second-to-none, making its expertise indispensable to the entire endeavour.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council, with 28 offices along the Belt and Road, will play a vital role in facilitating the huge opportunities already looming large. US$40 billion is already sitting in the Silk Road Fund, and President Xi Jinping committed an additional 100 billion yuan in May.

Vincent Lo, Chairman of the HKTDC, believes the new Road is also the economic way forward for the planet. “It will change the face of the world”, he says. “We’re a global city, we are used to working with multicultural practices, we have a very strong service sector here.”

The new Road is also the economic way forward for the planet. It will change the face of the world.
— Vincent Lo, Chairman of the HKTDC

There are myriad advantages enjoyed by Hong Kong. In 2015 it exported about HK$150 billion worth of financial services; its combined asset management business is worth around US$2,230 billion; and 75 of the world’s 100 top banks operate in Hong Kong. It has the highest concentration of insurers in Asia and the world’s freest economy. PwC’s Simon Booker notes that last year, between 60 and 70 per cent of all investment in infrastructure across the Belt and Road flowed through Hong Kong in some way.

At a time where many economies are meandering, there is certainty and dynamism in Hong Kong. It is set not only to capitalise on these projects, but to drive their success. Here they know the geography and cultures of the Road, and they have an easy familiarity with doing the multinational business required. There are openings for private financing, and a variety of skills will be in demand: legal, engineering, architectural, banking, accounting, IT. Seven million people may be living on an area a tenth of the size of Wales, but there is room for more, if you want your future to include the biggest infrastructural adventure of this century.

Find out more about The Belt and Road Initiative

Find out more about business opportunities along The Belt and Road

Read about: Hong Kong, at the crossroads of the future
Read about: Hong Kong: Building Infrastructure, Connections and Expertise