Success has many fathers
Hong Kong Disneyland was a hard-fought deal but others tried to claim credit for it, too
It was not a particularly striking item in the newspaper at the time and I suspect most readers will have barely noticed it.
But something about the piece struck me as odd and familiar at the same time; and the follow up a few days later brought back all the old memories. Déjà vu!
The first story a few weeks ago quoted a senior official in the Central People's Government as saying the decision by an international law body to set up its regional office in Hong Kong was a "gift" from Beijing to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the handover.
Only extensive lobbying by the CPG had secured the project for the SAR. I remember thinking when I read it that it was strange such a body - the Hague Conference on Private International Law - should have been susceptible to government influence. Moreover, on the InvestHK website there is a video of retired Appeal Court Judge Michael Hartmann (Hong Kong's representative to the conference) talking about the case and the help given by the department.
"Oh well," I thought, "they say success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan."
That might have been the end of it, had it not been for the clarification about one week after the initial report.
The secretary-general of the Hague Conference issued a flat denial of the official's statement. Hong Kong was chosen purely for its judicial autonomy and separation of powers, he said.
"I think we should stick to the fact that there has not been a bid or something like that. It has nothing to do with politics. It is simply a question of the reality here and making the best informed professional choice."
In the days since that authoritative sounding denial, I have not seen any rebuttal.
But when and where had I experienced something similar before? Then all the memories of 1999 came back to me.
We were up to our necks in intensive negotiations with The Walt Disney Company from early February that year to the end of October.
Finally an agreement was struck and Hong Kong had prevailed over strong competition and had secured the agreement to build Hong Kong Disneyland.
From Hong Kong's perspective, we had secured a strategic asset which together with Ocean Park would help turn our city into a "First Choice family holiday destination" in addition to our many other attractions. From Disney's perspective, access to the China market had been secured in an economy with a convertible currency, no exchange controls and with a good record in protecting intellectual property.
Disney's decision was purely a commercial one. The range of issues the company weighs up before giving the go-ahead to a theme park is exhaustive and comprehensive and is in the best interests of the company's shareholders.
But just a short while after negotiations ended, a prominent member of the local community with close Beijing ties assured me the outcome was never in doubt because "Beijing told Disney to go to Hong Kong first".
No, Sir. We won on our merits because we were the best professional choice. Sound familiar?