An unbreakable bond

After two years of subdued exchange, Hong Kong and Thailand are reopening and optimistic about future trade

Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau receives a souvenir prepared by the calligraphy master at the 'HK FOR U' exhibition at The Mall Bangkae. Courtsy of Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Bangkok

As Hong Kong's Covid-19 situation continues to stabilise after a spike in cases and deaths earlier this year, the coastal city is now looking forward to reconnecting with trading partners in Asean through travel and business ventures, according to Edward Yau, Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development.

Yau, who was recently in Thailand for the APEC meeting, spoke with Life about issues pertaining to the pandemic and the partnership it continues to share with its ally Thailand.

He said it was a welcome sign to see a downward trajectory of Covid-19 as cases have fallen to a low three-digit level each day. This encouraging outcome has made it possible to relax various social distancing measures in phases since April 21 and led to local businesses resuming activity.

As for air travel, Yau remarked: "Non-Hong Kong residents have been allowed in since May 1 as long as they observe the same boarding, quarantine, and testing requirements as Hong Kong residents or seven days of hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated visitors on the condition that travellers test negative on the fifth day via a PCR test and rapid antigen tests on the sixth and seventh day of their stay. We believe the above measures will provide the much-needed business travel to bring the economy onto a solid recovery path.

A calligraphy master demonstrates Chinese calligraphy. Courtsy of Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Bangkok

"An additional rapid antigen test (RAT) will also be conducted during 'test-and-hold' at the airport to reinforce testing arrangements for inbound passengers for early detection and isolation of infected persons, and to boost the process of closed-loop management from the airport to designated quarantine hotels (DQHs) to reduce waiting time for inbound passengers at the airport."

Yau said Hong Kong was able to contain the pandemic for two years before the fifth wave hit early this year, leading to a substantially high number of daily cases. At its height, he noted there were tens of thousands of cases and many were hospitalised.

Explaining how the city dealt with the onslaught, he continued: "The state of affairs required us to take strong precautions. To curb the growing caseload, we had to impose travel restrictions and practice social distancing, among other measures.

"This paid off because, since April, we have started reopening several places in the city and easing measures, the most recent of which being restaurants allowed to serve dinner up to midnight. Bars have also reopened, as have sports centres and clubs.

"People went back to work from late March-early April."

Yau said Hong Kong is cautiously coming back to normal as the number of daily cases has dropped to 200-300. Moreover, an abundant supply of rapid antigen tests is also available for the public, so residents can test at home.

When someone tests positive for Covid, they can upload their results to a website that officials monitor and follow up on. Officials have observed a majority stay home to recover, while a small number require hospitalisation.

Speaking on the impact Covid-19 has had on travel and tourism, Yau said: "I think Covid hit Hong Kong hard as it did Thailand, where I believe tourism consists of 15% of GDP, while in our case it is about 5%. The impact is not only on tourism per se but also on businesses because a lot of people travel for business, family, and study.

"Despite technology that connects us today with people and our immediate family, meeting people face-to-face is a need everyone desires and that is why the vaccination drive became an integral part of the immediate solution for Hong Kong.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of the HKSAR Government, Mr Edward Yau, hangs a handwritten message at the 'HK FOR U' exhibition at The Mall Bangkhae. Courtsy of Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Bangkok

"Ninety-two percent of our people have been vaccinated, 86% have received their second jab, and over half of the population are already into their fifth jab."

Despite the positive signs, Yau said bringing back a sense of normalcy will still be a process because when it comes to Covid-19, it is better to be cautious and take it a day at a time than to go all out and regret the move later when the next wave hits.

Yau said Hong Kong is looking forward to seeing the world reopening as Covid-19 preventive measures are gradually easing across the globe to allow greater freedom of travel.

Nevertheless, what is needed is to "prepare for the worst, hope for the best!"

Speaking on Thailand and Hong Kong's close ties, Yau fondly recalls 2019 as being a successful year, with the setting up of the Economic and Trade Office established by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region in Bangkok. The same year, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, visited Thailand and signed an MoU on strengthening economic relations.

"The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Bangkok (HKETO Bangkok) is one among 14 overseas HKETOs, covering Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. It holds special significance because it is the third Economic and Trade Office established by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government in Asean. They play a role in fostering bilateral relations between Hong Kong and these four countries."

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of HKSAR, HKETO Bangkok launched a roadshow of interactive exhibitions in Bangkok, the first leg of which was held between May 19-25. The next event will be organised next month. The show highlighted what Hong Kong has to offer to Thai audiences.

The opening ceremony was presided over by Yau and comprised of four main sections designed to present the different faces of Hong Kong. They included "Hong Kong For Fun", "Hong Kong For Fortune", "Hong Kong For Friendship" and "Hong Kong For Future".

While describing their alliance, and what makes Thailand and Hong Kong have an integral trade partnership, Yau remarked: "I think the statistics do not necessarily represent the type of relationship we share.

"For instance, there is a very strong presence of Thai businesses and family interests in Hong Kong. A lot of Thai businesses have become household names. Hong Kong also has several joint ventures and interests in Thailand. In terms of foreign direct investment [FDI], not many people realise that FDI from Thailand to Hong Kong doubled than from Hong Kong to Thailand [in recent years], so this might be a surprise to some.

"Now with the increasing affluence of Thailand, a lot of money is going through Hong Kong as a hub for further investment, not to mention family businesses and wealth management. Despite Covid-19, we have been able to keep our partnership going. In the past two years, we have seen businesses from both sides keep in touch via online platforms and keep opportunities alive to form business partnerships in Thailand as a lot of startups in Hong Kong view Asean as a perfect market in their initial stage of development."

Yau said future business endeavours could also include Hong Kong working with Thailand on not just professional services but also Thai expertise in the post-production of Hong Kong films.

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