Deputy Secretary for Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan gives an exclusive interview to China Daily on Wednesday. LIU XIAOHAN / CHINA DAILY

Hong Kong Deputy Secretary for Justice  Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan said Hong Kong, an established common law jurisdiction with the best legal professionals and an advantage in arbitration, stands to reap a bonanza from the expanding trade between China and the Arab world. 

The veteran solicitor made his remarks to the media on Wednesday in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, on the last leg of a high-profile visit to the Middle East by Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu and a high-powered Hong Kong delegation comprising over 30 prominent figures from various sectors.  The visit, which began on Feb 4, saw exchanges between government officials and business leaders from Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

Cheung said that the two Middle Eastern countries are now opening up to exploring more opportunities globally, which will see an increase in international trade and for which they will need access to a common law system to help them “connect to the world”.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the only common law jurisdiction in China, has much to offer, especially when many Chinese companies are investing in the Middle East under the Belt and Road Initiative, he said. 

“That’s a very good opportunity for us to persuade and convince the Middle East countries to use the legal services of Hong Kong,” Cheung said. 

In the case of arbitration and dispute resolution — another strong area for Hong Kong — Cheung said the HKSAR is well-placed to serve as an arbitrator in cases involving cross-boundary contracts signed by parties from the Chinese mainland and the Middle East.

Hong Kong legal professionals understand the latest developments on the Chinese mainland and have a lot of experience in dealing with international trade practices, which will enable them to play an active role in rendering legal services to Middle East countries, said Cheung. 

“I think the common law system could be a common ground for us to provide our professional services in the Middle East,” Cheung said, adding Hong Kong has the best judges and legal professionals in the world, with some of the best ones having been invited by the UAE to sit as arbitrators or judges. 

The UAE is trying to develop a common law system and is inviting judges and lawyers from overseas, including those from Hong Kong, to participate, Cheung said. 

Hong Kong’s retired High Court judge William Stone, according to Cheung, is sitting on the Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts, with ADGM being the first financial center in the Middle East to adopt a common law system to handle the arbitration cases. 

The Dubai International Financial Centre, another financial free zone in the UAE, also applies an independent English-language common law system.

Hong Kong is a legal hub already, given that 70 percent of international law firms, including over half of the Global 100 law firms, have an established presence in the city, Cheung said. According to statistics provided by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, 939 local solicitor firms and 83 foreign law firms were operating in Hong Kong at the end of May 2022. 

Hence, they are ready to provide services for global trade and the Belt and Road Initiative, he added.

One of the goals of this trip to the Middle East is to help the visitors understand their hosts’ needs so that Hong Kong can formulate policies to facilitate its legal professionals in providing the best services to the Middle East market, Cheung said. 

Cheung said that during the visit, he sensed the local business sector’s eagerness to seize business and investment opportunities in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong signed an investment promotion and protection agreement with the UAE in 2019. A similar deal is under discussion between Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, according to an announcement Lee made when visiting Riyadh. 

Such agreements would give confidence to investors from the Middle East that Hong Kong will make every effort to promote and protect their investments in Hong Kong — and also on the Chinese mainland, with reciprocal arrangements with the mainland within Hong Kong’s legal system, Cheung said.