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In praise of the foreign friends who have served Hong Kong so well

Members of international chambers of commerce bring tremendous benefits to the city while serving their countrymen’s business interests

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 March, 2016, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 March, 2016, 4:45pm

I recently attended a farewell dinner in honour of the retiring CEO of one of Hong Kong’s international chambers of commerce.

As the list of his accomplishments was read out, it was brought home to me – not for the first time – just how much Hong Kong owes to the international business community in general, and officers of their business associations in particular.

Of course the prime duty of such people is to promote the interests of companies from their home country, helping them to set up here to find and take advantage of business opportunities. But inevitably in the process they also become promoters of Hong Kong in their own country.

After China’s opening up policy began to take effect in the early 1980s, with the main initial focus on the Pearl River Delta area of Guangdong province, it was natural for foreign companies to consider Hong Kong as a base for business. From the time of his appointment in 1990, the retiree had hammered this point home to his countrymen. When in 1991 Vietnam set out on the same course as China, under its so called “doi moi” policy, he extended the argument to that market also, stressing the advantages of Hong Kong over rivals Singapore and Bangkok.

During his tenure, the individual extended the argument geographically further, drawing attention to Hong Kong’s strengths as a superior gateway to the whole of China for companies in some sectors, in competition with Beijing and Shanghai. Nor did he finish there. He also reached out to executives with a broad Asia-Pacific schedule, and persuaded them that Hong Kong was ideally suited for this purpose too.

What form exactly did this promotion of Hong Kong take? One particularly noteworthy step was to persuade a senior political figure from his own country – in this case no less than the president himself – to visit our city together with a large delegation to see the situation on the ground for themselves. In the run-up to 1997, he even organised a visit to his home country by a senior political figure from the mainland – in this case no less a figure than Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office head Lu Ping – to reassure the business community about China’s commitment to “one country, two systems”.

In addition to frequent trips “home” to promote the advantages of Hong Kong, the executive took advantage of trade shows and business conventions to feature prominent speakers from the SAR. He even persuaded the chamber to purchase its own offices in Hong Kong to show its commitment to and confidence in our future.

Friends at the dinner will recognise that I am referring to Ekkehard Goetting of Germany. But I could equally well have in mind Christopher Hammerbeck of the British Chamber, or elected office holders like Jim Thompson and Nicolas Borit of the American and French chambers respectively. There are many, many more and only constraints of space prevent me from naming hundreds.

The point is that in the process of serving their own countrymen’s business interests, these people have brought tremendous benefit to Hong Kong as well. Our community should appreciate their contribution.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk