During her recent official visit to Thailand and Singapore, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was given a very warm welcome by the prime minister of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who invited her to establish an economic and trade office in his country.
And our CE promised that the proposal would not go unanswered.
It is said that Lam did take the Thai prime minister’s suggestion very seriously, and is now eagerly studying the feasibility of establishing Hong Kong’s third economic and trade office (ETO) in the region. While it is also said that she is yet to decide on the location of the new ETO, it is believed that either Thailand or Vietnam is likely to be her final choice.
The HKSAR government operates two ETOs in Southeast Asia — one in Singapore and the other in Jakarta, with the former being the regional headquarters.
Establishing a new ETO could enhance Hong Kong’s role as a bridge between Southeast Asian countries and the mainland under the “One Belt, One Road” framework.
Some politicians pointed out that Lam’s recent trip to Thailand and Singapore was highly significant and may open a new chapter in the relationship between Hong Kong and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
They said that over the past decade, Hong Kong has been obsessed with exploring the mainland market and has completely overlooked the importance of building sustainable trade relations with ASEAN countries.
In contrast, Singapore has seized the opportunities to conclude free trade agreements (FTAs) with all the major countries in the region.
Our government’s lack of foresight to notice the importance of the Southeast Asian market, they complained, has cost Hong Kong companies a lot of business opportunities.
Even though the previous administration under former chief executive CY Leung finally realized this important fact and jumped on the bandwagon of concluding FTAs with ASEAN countries in 2014, it only got a lukewarm response from most of these countries.
They also pointed out that when it comes to choosing the location of a new ETO, Thailand has a substantial advantage over other countries because it is a major trade and financial hub in the heartland of Southeast Asia that connects Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Leaders of these countries, they said, are a bit miffed that Hong Kong’s ETO headquarters are located in Singapore because they don’t think Singapore can fully represent their interests and concerns.
They said business leaders in Hong Kong have high expectations of Carrie Lam and her administration in opening up a gateway to the Southeast Asian market.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 24
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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