Opinion | How should we view the exchange visits between British and HK principal officials?
By Serving-the-people Ox
The Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Christopher Hui, traveled to the United Kingdom and Belgium to meet political and business leaders. Later, Dominic Johnson, Minister of State for Commerce and Trade of the United Kingdom, visited Hong Kong to discuss issues such as bilateral trade and the removal of market barriers. The trip is the first visit by a high-ranking British official to Hong Kong in more than three years. Recently, Vice President Han Zheng was invited to attend the coronation of the British monarch. This series of interactions reflects that the two sides have adopted a pragmatic attitude and are actively seeking cooperation.
Given Dominic Johnson's visit to Hong Kong, several former Hong Kong district councilors and overseas Hongkongers' organizations wrote to the British Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and various political parties, urging Downing Street to consider pressuring the Hong Kong government on the human rights situation. Dominic Johnson wrote an article in the South China Morning Post, saying that the UK will not turn a blind eye to the damage to Hong Kong's freedom, and will defend British values and interests when doing business with Hong Kong. That said, his clichéd rhetoric is merely a political gesture. His move is understandable, as he has been under fire. Activists criticize that the pursuit of commercial ties has made the Rishi Sunak government's China policy weak.
At present, the UK's domestic economy shrinks, inflation stays skyrocketed, and social problems are acute. The authorities are in genuine need to boost the economy and foster trade relations with Mainland China and Hong Kong. Upon Brexit, the adverse impact gradually emerged. The UK understands that practical cooperation with China will bring development opportunities to the UK, and the UK cannot give up Hong Kong's economic and trade interests, which is why Dominic Johnson visited Hong Kong. The British side still puts interests first. Even though some politicians and overseas Hongkongers are inciting anti-China sentiments to gain political leverage, the top British officials are still clear-headed.
In fact, the UK has fundamental commercial interests in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a foothold for many British companies in Asia and a springboard for entering the Chinese market. As of June 2022, 134 of the Hong Kong-based companies whose parent companies are located in the UK are regional headquarters, covering high-value-added businesses such as banking, trade, and professional services. Amidst the epidemic, the total bilateral merchandise trade between the UK and Hong Kong still reached HK$138 billion in 2021, an increase of about 25% over the same period last year. Hong Kong is also an important entrepot for trade between the UK and the Chinese mainland, which cannot be overlooked.
The exchange of visits between British and Hong Kong senior officials shows that political disputes have not prevented both sides from seeking pragmatic cooperation. Although Dominic Johnson stated his position in the newspaper, actions speak louder than words. Facing reality, the UK still hopes to seek common development with Hong Kong. With the return to normality after the epidemic, the Hong Kong government and all sectors of society should be more proactive in establishing ties, connecting the world, and luring for business opportunities.
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