Ever since he took office in 2012, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has displayed an over-eagerness to promote the interests of Beijing rather than focus on what really matters to Hong Kong people.
If there is anyone who would still argue with this notion, the leader’s latest policy address should put to rest all the doubts.
On Wednesday, Leung delivered his 2016 policy speech, laying out his priorities and setting the government’s agenda for the coming year.
Avoiding topics such as political reform and the current controversy over missing booksellers, Leung devoted most of his time to one issue — China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
The whole emphasis was on how Hong Kong should ride on the coattails of Beijing’s ambitious strategy to promote economic cooperation and links among the nations along ancient trade routes.
“One Belt, One Road” was mentioned as many as 44 times, making it the single-most mentioned phrase in the speech.
Sure, there were other announcements that dealt specifically with Hong Kong — the most notable being annual spending of HK$6.7 billion for free kindergarten education starting from 2017 school year, and initiatives to incubate Hong Kong local start-ups and support the technology sector.
However, the overriding theme was China’s so-called belt and road plan and how Hong Kong can seize the opportunities from that plan.
“One Belt, One Road”, a development strategy initiated by Beijing in 2013, refers to the New Silk Road Economic Belt, which will link China with Europe through Central and Western Asia, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which will connect China with Southeast Asian nations, Africa and Europe.
Neither the belt nor the road follows any clear line geographically speaking; they serve more as a roadmap for how China wants to further integrate itself into the world economy and strengthen its influence in those regions.
The plan is aimed at helping Beijing boost its geo-political influence in Eurasian countries along the Silk Road and other trade routes and support the nation’s rise as a major world power.
Now, there are doubts as to how much Hong Kong businesses can actually benefit from the China plan.
The fact is that local businessmen are familiar only with the Southeast Asia market along the maritime Silk Road, and do not have much trade activities with the nations along the Silk Road such as Iran, Turkey, Russia and Central Asian nations.
According to government data, countries along the maritime Silk Road such as Singapore, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Italy and Netherlands have been Hong Kong’s top 20 trading partners in 2014.
Trade with the countries has been going well and there is no need for government to play any role.
Given this, the emphasis on “One Belt, One Road” in Leung’s speech, and a suggestion for more engagement with Central Asian nations, appears to be more of political decision rather than meeting the real needs of the Hong Kong economy.
Some may argue that Hong Kong needs to explore new markets to avoid putting all eggs into the same nest. But what we should bear in mind is that the city needs to focus on areas where it can best use its competitive strengths.
Also, the belt and road strategy is still only a concept at this point of time, rather than a concrete plan for implementation.
In fact, an official from the mainland’s National Development and Reform Commission said at a forum in November last year that he personally does not believe in Leung’s vision of Hong Kong as a super connector in the One Belt, One Road plan.
He pointed out that nations along the Silk Road mostly do business in a Russian or Chinese way, rather than follow the rules set by the Western world which Hong Kong is familiar with.
The city should partner with Chinese provincial governments to jointly explore belt and road opportunities, rather than to go there alone, the official said.
Hong Kong’s competitive advantages in professional services may not serve well in Central Asia.
Given this, Leung’s over-emphasis on the “One Belt, One Road” seems a bit misplaced.
The truth is that Hong Kong’s leader has opted to blindly follow Beijing policies, rather than chart a clear roadmap on what exactly will suit the territory.
With his readiness to deploy Hong Kong resources to accommodate China’s goals, Leung is showing his loyalty to Beijing and seeking to win back the trust of top leaders in Beijing.
Although Leung has denied that he plans to seek a second term, his show of excessive deference to Beijing suggests that he could indeed be eyeing another five years in the top post.
Given the central government’s priorities, what better way to improve his chances than parrot the belt and road plan, Leung may be thinking.
That may be a clever strategy, but is he not putting his personal interests above those of the public?
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