Carrie Lam confident Hong Kong will rebound as she woos Thai investors

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House in Bangkok yesterday. Among those present were Deputy Thai Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak (fourth from right) and Hong Kong Commerce and Econom
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House in Bangkok yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam yesterday expressed confidence that the city will bounce back from its current difficulties.

"Despite the social unrest, I wish to assure our Thai friends that Hong Kong's fundamentals, including our unique strengths under 'one country, two systems', our rule of law and independent judiciary remain strong," the city's Chief Executive said at a press conference at Government House in Bangkok.

"I and my government are listening to our people, with a view to resolving some deep-seated problems in Hong Kong through dialogue. I have every confidence that Hong Kong can bounce back as we always do," she added.

Mrs Lam was on a one-day mission to woo investors and promote bilateral trade with Thailand.

She signed a number of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on bilateral trade with Deputy Thai Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, with a focus on innovation, creativity, finance, human resources development and start-ups.

Mrs Lam also met Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House after the signing of the MOUs. Both sides held exploratory talks on the Thailand-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

An FTA between Hong Kong and Asean came into force on June 11.

Asean is Hong Kong's second-biggest trading partner in terms of merchandise trade but is fourth when it comes to services. Hong Kong is Thailand's ninth-largest trading partner, with a total trade volume of US$15.47 billion (S$21.1 billion) last year.

Hong Kong's economy had already been growing at a sluggish pace, by only 0.5 per cent in the first half of this year, but has taken a nosedive in the second half, with a 2.9 per cent year-on-year contraction in the third quarter due to the escalating US-China trade war, as well as the continuing anti-government protests in the city.

 
 
 

In September, retail sales fell by about 20 per cent, with tourist arrivals plunging by a whopping 34 per cent year-on-year.

At the press conference yesterday, Dr Somkid voiced strong support for the embattled Hong Kong leader, saying Thailand had confidence in Mrs Lam's leadership.

This was not the first time the Thai deputy prime minister had publicly backed her amid the crisis in the territory. On Oct 24, while in Hong Kong, he was photographed giving her a bouquet and telling her that Thailand would remain the city's true friend.

Mrs Lam in turn called Dr Somkid a good friend and a friend of Hong Kong, saying "he has always been supportive of me".

Hong Kong's Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau, who was part of Mrs Lam's delegation, was also optimistic about the outcome of the current political and economic situation in Hong Kong, saying businesses were running as usual despite the ongoing unrest.

"The government has been trying every effort to bring the society back to normal. While having a difficult time, economic fundamentals remain the same. Hong Kong remains a city where we welcome businesses," Mr Yau said.

"We're also seeing prospects of reconciliation and the calming down of things, as evidenced by the smooth and peaceful completion of the major election at the district level."

Mr Yau was referring to the local elections on Sunday in which pro-democracy candidates won by a landslide, capturing almost 90 per cent of 452 seats and sweeping 17 out of 18 districts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2019, with the headline 'Lam confident HK will rebound as she woos Thai investors'. Print Edition | Subscribe