HKRI Taikoo Hui, an upscale shopping mall jointly developed and owned by Hong Kong-based HKR International and Swire Properties, officially opened for business on Nov 3 in Shanghai. Swire Properties Chief Executive Guy Bradley said at the opening ceremony that his company has a very long history together with Shanghai, as the city was the very first location in China it chose to settle in when it arrived in the country 150 years ago. And he is more than happy that Swire Properties can do business in Shanghai again after 150 years, adding that his company will focus on development in first-tier mainland cities; a subsequent project will also be in Shanghai, partnering with a local developer to build a brand-new international business area complete with commercial, residential and cultural facilities in Pudong New District.
This piece of news reminded me of the early years of this century, when the Chinese mainland had just joined the World Trade Organization and let some select foreign banks do renminbi business on the mainland. One of those foreign banks is none other than Citibank of the United States, which declared back then that it would revive the days of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century when its branches were all over the mainland.
It also reminded me of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), which opened for business in Shanghai in the early 1860s but remained dormant from 1949 to the early 1980s, when reform and the opening-up drive brought it back into active service for financial needs on the mainland.
Next year the mainland will celebrate 40 years of reform and opening-up. However, some people in the West have been complaining that the reform and opening-up were aimed at pursuing nationalism as a means to challenge and even exclude Western countries. Thankfully hard facts have over the past 40 years or so proved such complaints groundless. For example, HSBC, Citibank and Swire Properties are all cross-national corporate giants firmly rooted in the West but have been actively involved in the mainland’s reform and opening-up in recent decades, proving the reform and opening-up is not only an affair for the country but also a global phenomenon.
Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping reiterated in his report at the 19th National Congress that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and building a shared future for mankind, are mutually complementary. “Openness brings progress, while self-seclusion leaves one behind. China will not close its door to the world; we will only become more and more open,” he said, adding that “we should pursue the Belt and Road Initiative as a priority, give equal emphasis to ‘bringing in’ and ‘going global’, follow the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, and increase openness and cooperation in building innovation capacity. With these efforts, we hope to make new ground in opening China further through links running eastward and westward, across land and over sea.”
Hong Kong has always played an important role in the nation’s reform and opening-up drive in the past 40 years or so and that role is far more than a mere intermediary. Because the reform and opening-up drive include “inviting in” and “going abroad”, Hong Kong has been not only bringing foreign investment, technology and management to the mainland from outside but also investing in the mainland since the beginning. The mainland’s real-estate industry and property market are both modeled after Hong Kong’s and set up with a lot of help from Hong Kong, as are the securities exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Since the beginning of this century most, if not all, mainland enterprises that have “gone abroad” did so through Hong Kong; many of those that have gone further are now based in Hong Kong. That is why Xi said at the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and inauguration of the Fifth-Term HKSAR Government on July 1 that: “The central government supports Hong Kong to make full use of its strengths and expertise in advancing national strategic development plans such as the Belt and Road Initiative, building the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and internationalization of the yuan.”
It should be noted that Hong Kong is an international center of finance, trade and shipping linked mostly to Western economies today. In this characteristic it played a role of intermediary and trailblazer at the same time when the mainland was opening mainly to the West. With the start of the Belt and Road Initiative, however, the opening-up has entered a new era. From now until the middle of this century the nation will gradually open its doors wider not just to Western but other economies around the world as well. The intermediary and trailblazer role Hong Kong has played so far needs to change a little. The city’s entrepreneurs and professionals should familiarize themselves with “non-Western” economies to join forces with mainland companies in “exploring overseas markets” beyond major Western developed economies.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, November 22, 2017)