Long-lasting bond continues to flourish

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2011, 12:00am

If all the Canadians living in Hong Kong were sent home, it's estimated they could form Canada's 16th largest city.

Such are the strong ties between Canada and Hong Kong, a November survey by the Asia-Pacific Foundation (APF) found that there were 295,930 Canadians living here. The Vancouver-based think tank found in its survey of nearly 36,000 local households - representing 1.5 per cent of 2.34 million households - that about 7.85 per cent had at least one Canadian over the age of 18.

'Hong Kong is Asia's most Canadian city,' says Yuen Pau Woo, president and CEO of APF Canada. 'People-to-people ties between Canada and Hong Kong are based on extensive family, business and education linkages. They are an asset in trans-Pacific business, diplomatic and socio-cultural relations that deserve greater recognition in Canada.'

While the influx of mainlanders, and their subsequent investment in everything from property to mines to the Alberta oil sands project, has been headline news in Canada, they are following a beaten path established by the early migrants from Hong Kong and Guangdong.

With Statistics Canada reporting a population last year of 1.3 million Chinese-Canadians living in a country of 33.5 million people, the reach of Hongkongers throughout Canada is vast through a variety of business and social interests.

Far from the early settlers who established corner stores, laundries and restaurants, the newer generation of Hong Kong businesses in Canada include Li Ka-shing's Husky Energy, one of the country's biggest oil companies; Asia-Pacific Marine Containers, owned by Leung Maritime Group; and Richmond, British Columbia's Aberdeen Centre, a popular shopping mall in the Vancouver suburbs owned by Thomas Fung Wing-fat. The Sun Hung Kai Finance scion also owns the Fairchild Group, a national media chain comprising television and radio stations, and print publications.

Other businesses, among others, include Wing Wing, which exports Chinese-style pork sausages to Asia from its Vancouver base; Tom Lee Music, which has stores throughout British Columbia; and GolfBC, a chain of 12 clubs in British Columbia and Hawaii, owned by the Chan brothers, Tom and Caleb.

Hong Kong developers are also changing the Canadian landscape. Aspac Developments, a private company owned by the Kwok brothers of Sung Hung Kai Properties, has moved on from transforming downtown Vancouver's Coal Harbour to creating Village Green, a massive mixed-used residential project next to Richmond's Olympic Oval.

Concord Pacific, a company started by Victor Li and now owned by fellow Hongkonger Terry Hui, has several projects in British Columbia, and the Toronto waterfront and in Calgary. Likewise, Henderson Development (Canada) has been active in residential and commercial projects in British Columbia and Ontario.

Richard Lee, the British Columbia Parliamentary Secretary for the Asia-Pacific Initiative, says Canada-Hong Kong ties run deep. As Hong Kong is a gateway to the mainland, so British Columbia is Canada's Pacific gateway, and there are many connections to help with Sino-Canada trade.

'Hong Kong people here are well established and they can help this trade,' says the Kennedy Town native. 'There's a lot of connections between Hong Kong, British Columbia and the mainland.'

According to China's General Administration of Customs, bilateral trade between the two countries last year was US$37.1 billion. The stated goal is to hit US$60 billion by 2015.

With US$4.5 billion in trade between the two countries in January this year, Craig Lindsay, the Hong Kong Canada Business Association's Vancouver section president, is confident trade will continue to rise with Hong Kong playing an important role.

'I know a lot of Canadian companies are starting to go direct to Shanghai, Beijing and bypassing Hong Kong but, the reality is, Hong Kong is still a great base to access mainland markets, particularly the Pearl River Delta region,' says the Otis Gold Corp president.

'But we are also continuing to see more Canadian businesses use Hong Kong as their base to jump into other Southeast Asian markets. It still maintains a significant level of relevance, vis-a-vis Canadian businesses trying to do business in Asia. Hong Kong has a great infrastructure and good body of knowledge that you can leverage off.'

Barry McDonald, a past president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, views the ties as more social.

'Although we are seeing Hong Kong and mainland entrepreneurs setting up in Vancouver and Toronto, and some Canadian business operating in Hong Kong and the mainland, the ties traditionally have been social and family oriented,' says McDonald, a tax service partner in the Vancouver office of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

'You look at the number of people in Hong Kong who may not only be citizens [of Canada], but have gone to university here, or have family ties.

'You can have more interesting discussions about Canada in Hong Kong than you can here for that matter. It's just the awareness is so broad in Hong Kong about what goes on in Canada.'

A strong indication of the ties is Cathay Pacific, which has experienced steady growth in its 28 years of flying to Canada.

'With Hong Kong's continuous attraction as a destination and a convenient gateway for passengers travelling onward to the mainland and Asia, we believe the additional capacity we put in Toronto and Vancouver through aircraft upgrades will be timely,' says Lavinia Lau, Cathay Pacific's vice-president Canada. She adds that Cathay Pacific Canada employs more than 700 people, making the country significant for passengers and cargo, another growth area.

'Seafood and other fresh produce is a significant part of the cargo moving from Vancouver, while dry goods are more dominant from Toronto,' Lau says.

'On the inbound flights to Canada, we carry mainly electronics, garments, plus a variety of other goods originating from the mainland.'