BANGKOK – Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam signed an economic cooperation agreement with the Thai government on Friday in Bangkok, as her administration attempts to contain political turmoil with pro-democracy protests back home.
Lam, leading a delegation of representatives of five dozen Hong Kong firms, met Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and his cabinet members to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the countries as part of her two-day trip to the country’s capital.
Among other goals, the Friday agreement aims for bilateral trade between the parties to reach US$20 billion next year, and both sides discussed the possibility of a Thailand-Hong Kong free trade agreement, according to a statement released by the Thai government.
Other agencies also signed five MoUs on creative economy, innovation, human resources, industry and technology.
According to Thailand’s Commerce Ministry, bilateral trade with Hong Kong in 2018 amounted to US$15.5 billion – of which exports from Thailand were worth US$12.5 billion and imports from Hong Kong reached US$2.9 billion.
Prior to the signing, Lam met Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s Prime Minister and former coup leader, Thursday at the Government House. The meeting took place behind closed doors.
The economic agreement comes as Hong Kong police prepared to end their nearly two-week siege of the city’s Polytechnic University, where hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators have barricaded themselves.
This followed ongoing protests both in the autonomous territory and abroad against the alleged brutal methods security forces use against demonstrators.
The massive and often violent protests have been ongoing since June in opposition to a contentious extradition bill, which has since been dropped. But the rallies have turned into a movement seeking to improve democracy in the city-state and safeguard the region’s partial autonomy from Beijing.
Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, was handed to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, although it retains a degree of autonomy from Beijing under the “one country, two systems” policy.
According to the handover deal between London and Beijing, this political system – which includes certain legal freedoms not recognized in mainland China – must be preserved until 2047.