Opinion | Striving to be a mediator between ASEAN and China
By Dr. Kevin Lau
The Chief Executive recently expressed on social media that he had a lunch meeting with the Consuls General of Brunei and nine other ASEAN countries in Hong Kong. They exchanged views on various issues, and he hopes to make such lunches regularly. The SAR government attaches great importance to its relationship with ASEAN. Is there a hidden agenda behind this?
From my perspective, the key lies in the close relationship between ASEAN and China. ASEAN and China have extensive ties, particularly in the economic realm. China is an important economic partner for ASEAN, and this partnership is growing closer. Since 2020, ASEAN and China have become each other's largest trading partners. Over the past decade, goods trade between ASEAN and China has more than doubled, reaching USD 722 billion in 2022, accounting for nearly one-fifth of ASEAN's global trade. On the other hand, ASEAN is also a major destination for China's foreign investment, with China's investment in ASEAN increasing significantly to USD 15.4 billion in 2022, surpassing the pre-pandemic level of USD 9 billion in 2019.
In this "unprecedented transformational period," international relations are complex, and the global economic outlook is uncertain. This will only deepen the interdependence between ASEAN and China. After all, both are located within the framework of East Asia, and it is always better to have friendly neighbors than strained relationships. Now, let's shift our focus to Hong Kong. Hong Kong has always positioned itself as the "gateway to China, facing the world." With the growing ties between ASEAN and China, it is only natural for Hong Kong, as a gateway, to adopt a proactive approach. This makes it easier to understand why the Chief Executive wants to enhance relations with the Consuls General of ASEAN countries in Hong Kong.
Years of trade interaction have already connected ASEAN and China in a dense network of relationships. Neither side would want to see a decline in this economic relationship, especially when the global economy faces downward risks. Considering the complexities of geopolitics, China cannot afford to reduce its cooperation with ASEAN or its political and economic influence within ASEAN. Therefore, Hong Kong's role is not to bring two parties that ignore each other together but to bring two willing parties closer. This should not be a challenge for Hong Kong.
Furthermore, serving as a mediator between ASEAN and China would only benefit Hong Kong without any harm. ASEAN has been Hong Kong's second-largest trading partner for over a decade. In 2022, the merchandise trade between Hong Kong and ASEAN reached a historic high of USD 165 billion.
In reality, ASEAN is the world's fifth-largest economy with significant economic growth and unlimited potential. With such a good neighbor, we cannot overlook the opportunity to promote vibrant bilateral economic and trade relations between Hong Kong and ASEAN. This will have a significant impact on Hong Kong's future economic development.
The Chief Executive also mentioned on social media that he is pleased to see senior officials from ASEAN countries frequently visiting Hong Kong and welcomes more ASEAN tourists to visit the city. I have noticed an increase in Filipino and Thai tourists on the subway recently, indicating that the government's statement about a significant increase in the number of inbound tourists from these two countries in November and December last year is true.