HONG KONG, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Relations between the European Union (EU) and China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) "are becoming broader and deeper" as the "one country, two systems" principle has worked well over the past 20 years, Carmen Cano de Lasala, head of EU Office to Hong Kong and Macao, said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
"Business confidence here in Hong Kong is very high, related to the elements that underpin the specific system of Hong Kong," said Cano de Lasala.
She explained that the "uniqueness" of Hong Kong, which lies in aspects such as rule of law, independence of judiciary, free market economy, transparency, higher standards of anti-corruption, is what "underpinned" the "one country, two systems" principle and "attracted the confidence of business to come to Hong Kong".
To testify to the EU's "business confidence" in Hong Kong, Cano de Lasala listed some updated business and trade figures.
The number of European companies currently based in Hong Kong is more than 2,100, and it has shown "a positive trend" during the years.
The EU is Hong Kong's second largest trade partner after the Chinese mainland, while Hong Kong is EU's 14th largest trading partner for trade in goods and a key partner for trade in services.
Trade in goods between the EU and Hong Kong rose by 7.3 percent in 2016 and amounted to 53.2 billion euros (about 59.5 billion U.S. dollars), while trade in services amounted to 22.77 billion euros (about 25.5 billion U.S. dollars) in 2015.
During the 20 years after its return to China, Hong Kong "has consolidated its status as an important financial and economic hub", and "has played and continues playing an important role as a bridge between East and West," the EU diplomat said, citing Stock Connect and Bond Connect, recently-unveiled programs between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland as examples of Hong Kong's important role in the internationalization of RMB and for investments from China to other parts of the world.
"The EU is a firm supporter of the implementation of the 'one country, two systems' principle. We think it has been key to the development of Hong Kong, and we are confident that it would continue to remain a key element in the future development of Hong Kong," Cano de Lasala said, adding that the "one country, two systems" principle "has been beneficial not only for Hong Kong, but also for the Chinese mainland, the region, and the rest of the world."
On the prospect for Hong Kong's future development, Cano de Lasala acknowledged that Hong Kong may face competition from surrounding cities that are rising rapidly, but stressed that the city "can build on its assets to further develop its potentials."
"Hong Kong can do many things, because it has the capacities, assets and people who are well-prepared and well-educated," she said. "It's for Hong Kong to decide which are the initiatives they want to join, and how to identify the main priorities for its future development."
On Hong Kong's role as a "super-connector" in the Belt and Road Initiative, Cano de Lasala agreed that Hong Kong can "bring an added value" to programs included in the initiative by building on its assets in areas such as financial services, mediation and arbitration.
Cano de Lasala underlined the EU's interest in the Belt and Road Initiative and China's plan for the development of a city cluster in the "Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area".
"Since the beginning, the EU followed with interest the Belt and Road Initiative, because this initiative is about connectivity between Asia and Europe. The EU is among the main trading partners for most of the countries in Asia, and there is an increasing complementarity in our economies," she said, adding that the EU is also following the developments in the Greater Bay Area and believes that European companies can help to bring added value to it.
"Interconnectivity is now a big word. It means not only infrastructure. There are a lot of elements included," she said, adding that the EU, with 60 years of experience in regional integration, is ready to share expertise and experience.
Besides "dynamic cooperation" in business and trade, relations between the EU and Hong Kong have also covered areas such as customs facilitation, people-to-people exchanges, technological innovation and environmental protection, the EU diplomat said, adding that her office is still exploring possibility of further expanding the relations in the future.
"Since its establishment in 1993, the EU office in Hong Kong has grown bigger," she said. "It shows how broad the portfolio of relations between the EU and Hong Kong have grown over years. And this is just the beginning."