First person

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am

Jason Baker, 32, is director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) Asia Pacific, which has just set up its regional base in Hong Kong. He explains why Hong Kong is vital to the organisation renowned for its high-profile stunts and celebrity advertising campaigns.

We chose Hong Kong as our regional base for business and economic reasons. It is easier for us here because of where Hong Kong is situated. It is a place where we can get business done. We looked at Singapore and we even looked at Beijing, but we decided Hong Kong was the best place to be.

We want to reach the greatest number of people possible. China is a big consideration and the gateway to China is Hong Kong. There are other factors at work, too. When we need to hire staff it helps a lot that Hong Kong has some sort of animal rights movement.

When I first came to Hong Kong two years ago, we only had about three people who were activists. Now we have about 100. Hong Kong has something like 20 vegetarian restaurants so it isn't a difficult issue to get across to people. Sars raised awareness of animal welfare issues, too, and made people want to see restrictions on the way animals are being treated.

Awareness of animal rights in Hong Kong is still relatively new and makes our job difficult in some respects but not so difficult in others. It is less difficult because it is a topic that is new and people are open to it. It is not like the situation overseas where people think they have heard it all before.

In Hong Kong, people sit up and take notice, especially with the way we do things which are a bit glitzy and exciting, using celebrities like Pamela Anderson.

When the Post Magazine did an article on fur farms in China this month, we had a tremendous response. It really got people charged up and made them want to do something to change things, and we were very pleased about that.

In China there is simply no animal welfare law. You can do anything you want to any animal you like. I was just in Beijing last week and in Guangzhou, and it is a massive task. It is daunting, but there is no time like the present to get out there.

You have 1.3 billion people to educate and one of our major ways of getting our message across is via the internet. While rich people are connected to the internet in China, only about 7 per cent of the country as a whole is connected.

Animal rights may be a new concept in China but every time I am there I find great interest from people wanting to know what they can do. We are regularly contacted by magazines and newspaper editors who want to introduce the issues to their readers.

Our first priority is to find a China co-ordinator, someone who can look at China to chip away at it, doing everything from website to things like looking for a van we can paint up and literally drive around the country into small towns and villages to educate people.

China is concerned about its image with the Olympics coming up and our aim is to have a basic animal welfare law in place by 2008. With all the international attention that they will be receiving, I don't think the country wants to be seen without even the most basic animal cruelty laws.

We will try to work with the government to achieve this. We are not asking for the world. We are asking for the first small step in an animal welfare policy. With Hong Kong, China has a 'one country, two systems' policy and the same principle can be applied to animal welfare.

What you can do to animals in China would be illegal in Hong Kong. We want to take the laws in Hong Kong which protect animals and push for them to be adopted in the mainland.

Peta Hong Kong can be contacted by email at