COVER STORY – BEIJING DOORKNOCK: PROSPECTS OF GREATER BUSINESS ENGAGEMENT

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For the seventh year in a row since AmCham Hong Kong reinstated in 2010 its annual “Doorknock” trip to China’s capital city, a delegation of senior business executives led by Chairman Walter Dias was in Beijing to have candid face-to-face discussions with Chinese government officials responsible for making and implementing polices that influence business development in China.

Each year, delegates “knock on office doors” at various ministries, think tanks, and other official organizations for hour-long roundtable discussions, and it was no different this year. Despite Beijing’s user-unfriendly traffic, AmCham delegates successfully scheduled and attended 11 meetings with PRC officials, top executives of major Chinese companies, and both the US Ambassador and AmCham-China leadership (see box).

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“Thanks again to the excellent pre-trip planning by China Affairs Director William Lin and the Chamber staff, we squeezed in a remarkable number of meetings,” says AmCham Chairman Walter Dias, who led the 26-member group to Beijing (see box).

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This year’s delegation was the largest one yet, and included several business sectors. The highest concentration was in financial services, but it also covered law, education, transportation, and various professional services sectors. Talking points focused primarily on China-Hong Kong issues, especially items found in the sections on Hong Kong & Macau in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan.

Key Priorities

China-Hong Kong-United States

  • Hong Kong’s current political and economic environment;
  • China Central Government’s mid-term policies on Hong Kong;
  • AmCham’s role in promoting Hong Kong’s competitiveness;
  • Foreign investment into China and outbound investment by Chinese enterprises;
  • Status of US-China BIT (Bilateral Investment Treaty) negotiations; and
  • Impact of the US presidential election campaign on US-China relations.

Hong Kong-Pearl River Delta

  • Hong Kong’s integration with neighboring cities in the PRD;
  • Evolution of the “Guangdong-HK-Macau Greater Bay Area” concept; and
  • Roles of Hong Kong and Macau in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan.

Trade & Investment

  • Current trends in China’s international trade and investments;
  • AIIB’s long-term vision and priorities for near-term investment;
  • Status of the Belt and Road Initiative;
  • “Made in China 2025” and “Internet +” to promote industrial upgrading; and
  • Updates on exiting FTZs and plans for new ones.

Financial Services

  • Priorities for expanding two-way opening of China’s capital markets
  • Measures for improving the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect operation;
  • Update on preparatory work for the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect;
  • Orientation of China’s monetary policies over the next year;
  • Status of RMB internationalization and exchange rate management; and
  • Policies and regulations on Internet financing and emerging financial technologies.

In a luncheon meeting with Dr Henry Zhao Xuejun, center front, CEO of Harvest Fund Management
In a luncheon meeting with Dr Henry Zhao Xuejun, center front, CEO of Harvest Fund Management

Candid Comments

What turned out to be three recurring themes in the delegation’s meetings were raised by Deputy Director Zhou Bo in the delegation’s opening meeting at the Hong Kong-Macau Affairs Office of the State Council.

First, many Chinese government interlocutors mentioned the volatility in Hong Kong’s current social and political environment and stressed the Central Government’s commitment to its “one country, two systems policy” and continued support for the Basic Law. At the same time, they stressed the continuing importance of Hong Kong’s international business environment and the need for stability for continuing success.

Second, Zhou emphasized the importance of AmCham’s role in facilitating Hong Kong’s positioning as a premier business and economic gateway into and out of China. He especially referenced the growing trend of Chinese enterprises investing overseas, including the United States, and the strong capabilities for assistance offered by Hong Kong’s mature service industry expertise.

Taking full advantage of Chinese enterprises going global by providing international business services, Zhou said, “represents another stage of growth for Hong Kong’s service industries.”

Third, Zhou promoted the concept of the “Guangdong-HK-Macau Greater Bay Area” as a China policy direction with strong business development possibilities. He encouraged AmCham to support close integration with the PRD, especially Shenzhen and Macau, to help build “a living and economic circle” like the San Francisco Bay Area in line with this policy.

In response to these topics, AmCham delegates stressed the broad spectrum of services that Chamber members can offer to Chinese investors going global and mentioned the frequent trade and investment meetings now being hosted at the Chamber for Chinese government and business leaders.

Chairman Dias also pointed out that the Chamber has conducted several delegation trips to PRD cities and that more are planned in coming months to provide continuing updates on city plans and provide business contacts for AmCham members.

Dias said that the PRD cities each has different strengths, such as the growing reputation in Shenzhen for its R&D and high-tech manufacturing capabilities. At the same time, he noted, considerable synergy with all PRD cities is possible with Hong Kong because of the SAR’s strong universities and world-class services in such areas as finance, law, communications, branding, and transportation and logistics.

Delegates also pointed out that as PRD cities continue to grow, they are expected to require expanded services expertise in such areas as healthcare, insurance, and all levels of education and training. Again, Hong Kong has much to offer, especially if market access is broadened.

Another item mentioned, derived from AmCham delegation trips to Shenzhen, Qianhai, Zhuhai, and Nansha, was that despite strong city development plans across the PRD, it seemed that each city saw itself in competition with one another and with Hong Kong. A competitive and a cooperative mindset is therefore needed for successful PRD development.

As one delegate pointed out, the cities currently have “terrific plans of their own” but are not adequately integrated. It was suggested that the Central Government might promote the idea of “one megalopolis, two systems” for PRD cities development, including integration with Hong Kong and Macau. This could produce stronger synergistic results, especially as closer connectivity between these cities occurs as new bridges and rails are completed.

The discussion at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) expanded on the possibilities from PRD integration, noting that “PRD integration of the nine cities, including Hong Kong and Macau, is still a work in progress. But as 60 percent of FDI and 60 percent of foreign trade of Guangdong come from Hong Kong, it has a significant foundation to build upon. The Central Government is very supportive as this is “the most active economic area of China.”

NDRC further noted that “the Greater Bay Area could form a hub of the ‘one belt, one road’ as it has the strongest basis of manufacturing capacity and can therefore become a lead model for other parts of the country.”

AmCham delegates, including Chairman Walter Dias (front row, third from right) and President Richard Vuylsteke (front row, second from left), with Vice Chairman of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) Wang Jinzhen (front row, third from left)
AmCham delegates, including Chairman Walter Dias (front row, third from right) and President Richard Vuylsteke (front row, second from left), with Vice Chairman of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) Wang Jinzhen (front row, third from left)

New Visit

At least half the meetings at Beijing Doorknocks typically involve excellent access to government offices relevant to financial industry interests. Included this year was a first-time stop at the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), for a productive meeting with Vice President Joachim von Amsberg.

The meeting was “suggestion friendly.” Von Amsberg said that the AIIB welcomed private sector input on how best to leverage their resources, such as providing relevant studies and reports on investment markets. He said that the “AIIB is happy to collaborate with the private sector as it is a new bank that truly wants to be innovative.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, AmCham delegates expressed a desire to establish an ongoing working group with AIIB to carry on in-depth dialogue. It was agreed to follow up on this possibility. Von Amsberg also noted that there is an AIIB event in June 2017 in Korea that will focus on dialogue with private banks, and he urged AmCham members to participate.

Strengthened Cooperation

Ever since AmCham Hong Kong reinstated the annual Beijing Doorknock trip in 2010, China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) has been instrumental in assisting the Chamber with appointments. CCPIT has been a tremendous asset as both organizations see positive results from collaboration and further cooperation.

This delegation experienced a further upgrade as CCPIT invited nine senior executives from Chinese MNCs to talk about their business development plans. They then joined the delegation at lunch for further informal conversation. This was a new networking opportunity that AmCham Hong Kong hopes to continue.

Over the past four years AmCham delegates have been building stronger networks with Chinese businesses through delegation trips to China and through invitations to Chinese government officials to AmCham’s annual China Conference as well as an expanded number of briefings and roundtables. The goal is to give members access to timely information and useful business development possibilities.

“We received very positive feedback from our Doorknock delegates, and now we need to look ahead on offering strong, continuing services them and our members,” says Dias. “I hope many more will join us on our upcoming PRD delegations, in-house roundtables, and future Beijing Doorknocks.”

The few days in Beijing represent but one step in a year-round program of engagement on China business and economic issues. In 2017, AmCham will follow up on many of the ideas and initiatives that were raised during the Beijing meetings and will work to translate them into action.

Note: The next AmCham delegation trip is scheduled for Shenzhen on 9 December 2016. Contact William Lin for details.