The centre has appointed a panel of industry experts to a Belt and Road Advisory Committee, which brings together legal and commercial expertise across the infrastructure, finance, construction and maritime sectors. It has also launched an online BRI resource centre, which it intends to update regularly with news and practical resources related to the project.
Infrastructure expert Vincent Connor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the announcements come against a backdrop of consistent messaging from the Chinese government about Hong Kong's role as a "hub" for BRI activity and professional services, and underline HKIAC's important role as an independent, internationally-recognised dispute resolution centre as work gets underway on BRI projects.
"Belt and road projects will involve a variety of distinct interests: from Chinese state-owned enterprises; to development banks such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and World Bank; to international commercial lenders; to host governments, to other interested parties," said Connor, who has been appointed to the HKIAC Advisory Committee.
"As contracting parties, these interests will require the application of a choice of law that is acceptable to all; a form of contract that is acceptable to all; and a style of dispute resolution in a place that is acceptable to all, in a language that all can understand. HKIAC offers world class arbitration facilities, in an international centre for excellence for professional services. Hong Kong is also known for the independence of its judiciary, its common law legal system and a court system and jurisprudence that support arbitration," he said.
BRI, formally known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiatives, is a strategy China has set out to finance and deliver projects along land routes to Europe, across Asia and the Middle East, and across trade routes over the South China Sea, South Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. Its particular focus is on energy and transport infrastructure projects.
A formal cooperation arrangement recognising the major role that engineering and construction companies, banks and insurers and universities in Hong Kong will play in the BRI was signed by the National Development and Reform Commission of China (NDRC) and the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region earlier this month. The arrangement outlines plans to utilise Hong Kong's status as a major business and transport hub to support companies involved in BRI projects, and foresees a "strategic cooperative partnership" between mainland China and Hong Kong.
HKIAC has considerable experience in handling disputes between Chinese and non-Chinese parties. In 2017, 55% of arbitrations administered by HKIAC involved a mainland Chinese party, and one third of all cases were between a party from mainland China and a party from another BRI jurisdiction, according to the centre's own figures.
"HKIAC has years of experience handling cases between Chinese and non-Chinese parties," said HKIAC secretary-general Sarah Grimmer. "As such, HKIAC is well prepared to support all parties in their belt and road endeavours."
Resources included in the new online platform at launch include publications and reports relevant to the BRI, a list of past and future HKIAC BRI events and information on dispute resolution options for BRI projects. It will be updated regularly with news and additional resources. Upcoming HKIAC BRI events include capacity building workshops in Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Members of the advisory committee include legal, financial and construction industry experts, and Rimsky Yuen GBM, JP, a former Hong Kong justice secretary.