Shortly after the Legislative Council adjourned in July, I made a study trip to Singapore to share stories about China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong and Singapore are both competitors and role models for each other. As a result of the riots and “black-clad” insurrection in 2019-20 and the pandemic that immediately followed, we witnessed a disconcerting flight of talent and financial capital to Singapore. As such, I also took the opportunity to study the merits of Singapore.
I held in-depth exchanges with friends from both the legal sector and the business community of Singapore. I went to visit a large law firm to learn about the operation of Singaporean law firms and the development of the legal industry in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region. The Singapore law firm I visited has established a cooperative organization with a number of law firms in 10 ASEAN countries. The partners of these law firms often introduce clients to each other, so that multinational enterprises in the ASEAN region can obtain the legal service of professionals familiar with the local business environment and regulations.
In the process of learning, I found that Singapore and Hong Kong are not competitors in the same arena but instead strategic partners. Singapore’s platform is Southeast Asia, and it must rely on superior services to compete with ASEAN countries for the Southeast Asian market. Hong Kong has the advantage of being backed by its immense motherland and enjoys easy access to the enormous mainland market. Consequently, many Singaporean friends are quite envious of Hong Kong as it has a unique legal environment — its common law system, which businesspeople find most welcoming and condoned by the central government. Its business-friendly environment encourages international and mainland funds and commodities flowing through Hong Kong in an endless stream.
Not surprisingly, my friends in Singapore — one of the most law-abiding and safest cities in the world — could not understand how we nearly allowed ourselves to be brought to our knees by the anarchists and political extremists, given that Hong Kong was renowned for its rule of law.
They also pointed out that the Belt and Road Initiative and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership offer both Hong Kong and Singapore the opportunity to work collaboratively as partners to develop the Southeast Asian market and serve as a bridge for closer business exchanges between China and ASEAN.
After the insurrection and the pandemic, Hong Kong people need to relearn the international situation and the optimum positioning of Hong Kong, especially as it concerns the legal profession. Hong Kong’s role is that of a bridge between its motherland and the world. The international investors view the Chinese market with great optimism and look to Hong Kong as a springboard to internationalize their domestic companies. Hence, Hong Kong must strive to achieve deeper integration with the mainland to further monetize our “connector” role. It doesn’t hurt that most top rating agencies give top scores to Hong Kong for its positive business environment. The icing on the cake is that the central government has long given its blessing for Hong Kong to retain its common law system, overwhelmingly favored by the international business community. In short, insofar as the basic fundamentals are concerned, Hong Kong really boasts a more “attractive package” than Singapore as a magnet for foreign investment and various talents, including legal practitioners. These are favorable conditions for us to strengthen and consolidate Hong Kong’s status as an international financial and trade hub.
Meanwhile, I would like to exhort Hong Kong to strive for deeper integration with the mainland, and to be cognizant of its huge development opportunities, which ambitious Hong Kong young people should be more alert to.
In his speech on the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, President Xi Jinping emphasized that “one country, two systems” will continue to be implemented in the foreseeable future. President Xi’s speech dispelled the international community’s concerns about Hong Kong’s future. It’s also worth noting that Hong Kong’s legal profession had already been reassured earlier by the central government that the common law system will continue to be implemented.
After leaving Singapore, with excitement and hope, I set off to the mainland again to start a journey of learning, communication and trust-building. During my 10 days of quarantine upon entering the mainland, I had in-depth exchanges with the Guangzhou Nansha Judicial Bureau, its Arbitration Center, and the court there via online meetings, discussing how to improve the legal services in Nansha district and improve the delivery of judicial documents. Nansha offers many preferential policies for Hong Kong law firms. It would be of great value for Hong Kong law firms and Hong Kong lawyers who have been admitted to practice in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to cooperate with mainland law firms to establish partnership associations in Nansha, Qianhai, Hengqin and other pilot free-trade zones in the GBA. This is because the government has introduced a policy to allow these partnerships’ association law firms in the above-mentioned pilot free-trade zones to deliver legal services of any jurisdictions in the world; all they need to do is to hire qualified foreign lawyers to provide the legal services. The FTZ also offers rental concessions, subsidies and tax incentives to law firms operating within the zone.
I was invited to attend a lecture given by the Hangzhou Lawyers Association as a guest speaker. About 50 local lawyers attended, and more than half of them asked me to become WeChat friends, clearly a very gratifying professional and personal harvest. At the lecture, Hangzhou lawyers actively asked questions about legal risks related to foreign investment and what to pay attention to. I also visited the HKSAR government’s trade office in Hangzhou. Its director, Mr Liu, took me to visit an exhibition jointly organized by architects from Hong Kong and Hangzhou showcasing unique architectural design expertise from the two places. Having been away for three years, I was impressed by the scale and modernity of improvements in Hangzhou in such a short period. This speaks to the need for Hong Kong professionals and talents from different industries to strengthen communication and exchanges with their mainland counterparts.
The last stop of my journey was Beijing. I visited Beijing as a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, becoming the first representative of the Hong Kong Legal Functional Constituency to visit Beijing in the 25 years since the handover. I visited the Supreme People’s Court, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Justice, and the All-China Lawyers Association to exchange views on the development of the legal profession in Hong Kong and the mainland.
In the Supreme People’s Court, I learned a lot about the country’s judicial reform and digitalization. The establishment of digital courts and the transmission of judicial documents electronically have greatly expedited the delivery of justice nationwide, reinforced the protection of the public good, and ensured the normal operation of the judicial system during the pandemic. Hong Kong’s somewhat calcified judiciary should take a look at the successful digitalization of our nation’s judiciary with an open mind.
I visited the Legal Department of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council and the Ministry of Justice to discuss the future of the legal service industry in both places. I also learned about the integration and development of lawyers in the GBA, and the development of the new management and modus operandi Hainan province has implemented for law firms since 2019.
The integration of the legal professions of the mainland and Hong Kong will better serve the country’s enterprises, support people’s efforts to go global, and protect the rights and interests of enterprises and people in both places. I analyzed developments in the international and Hong Kong legal professions. Local law firms in Hong Kong are facing asymmetric competition from European and American law firms, which will affect the status and stability of Hong Kong as a financial center in the long run.
The State needs to invest better policies and more resources to speed up the exchange and integration of lawyers in the two places. I had an in-depth exchange with the All-China Lawyers Association on the integration of the legal service industries of the two places. We discussed the win-win cooperation plan between lawyers and law firms in the two places, and shared knowledge about the systems and codes of the two places for monitoring the professional conduct of lawyers. We believe that continuous exchanges will facilitate the integration of the legal service industries of the two places and better protect the rights and interests of enterprises and people investing in both places.
The author is a member of the Legislative Council representing the Legal Functional Constituency, and a former president of the Hong Kong Law Society.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS