Hong Kong’s non-profit approach to Belt and Road Initiative gains traction

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Leung Chun-ying

4th December 2023 – (Hong Kong) A new approach to delivering volunteer projects in Belt and Road Initiative countries is gaining momentum, with non-profit organisations taking the lead instead of government bodies. This shift is said to reduce political opposition in the host countries, according to Leung Chun-ying, a former leader of Hong Kong now involved in non-governmental work. Leung shed light recently on the operations of the GX Foundation, a non-profit organisation he chairs. The foundation is committed to implementing public health missions throughout countries involved in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Interest from Hong Kong university students wishing to volunteer for the foundation’s work has been overwhelming, Leung revealed.

The GX Foundation, backed by eight mobile surgical units towed by trucks, mainland Chinese medical professionals, and Hong Kong coordinators and volunteers, has committed to carrying out 37,500 free cataract operations in Laos, Cambodia, Djibouti, Senegal and Mauritania by 2027.

The foundation’s board comprises mainly representatives from Chinese state-owned enterprises. However, the nature of their work hasn’t resulted in any apprehension from local politicians. This response contrasts with the usual protests against efforts led by foreign government agencies.

Leung emphasised the difference between government-led and non-profit initiatives. An NGO-led initiative could avoid accusations of political motivations from opposition groups in host countries.

Leung, also serving as a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, stated that the GX Foundation refrains from political discourse. Their focus is purely humanitarian, and they have no interest in signing trade treaties with the host countries.

The GX Foundation recently celebrated its fifth anniversary and is among the few known Hong Kong-based NGOs serving Belt and Road countries. It works alongside mainland-based groups such as the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation and other smaller NGOs engaged in international projects.

Despite operating independently, the GX Foundation relies on local Chinese embassies for support. Chinese businesses and individuals also play crucial roles in offering practical advice and assistance to the medical teams during crises.

The foundation’s medical staff are primarily from the mainland, with other volunteers, including coordinators and translators, mostly young individuals from Hong Kong. There has been an overwhelming response from university students wanting to join the foundation, either full-time or as interns.

Since its on-site operations began a year ago, the GX Foundation has completed more than 7,300 surgeries. Leung shared that the most rewarding moments were when patients regained their sight and were able to see their families again. These touching moments illustrated the Belt and Road Initiative’s goal of joint planning, building, and benefiting.

Leung stressed the importance of sharing the foundation’s achievements to demonstrate China’s promise of mutual benefit. The GX Foundation spends approximately HK$100 million annually. While the funds raised from major donors will sustain the foundation’s efforts, they plan to initiate public fundraising to strengthen the people-to-people connection aspect of their work.

Looking ahead, Leung’s vision is to grow the GX Foundation into a flagship charitable organisation representing China with a global focus. They are currently working on future expansion plans, including widening their service scope. “We’re young. We’re small. But the message is getting out,” Leung said, adding that the foundation’s work tells a positive story about Hong Kong’s contribution as part of China.