For the first time in well over a century, a part of Chile's naval history with Asia has returned to Hong Kong. The brass bell of the former three-masted Chilean training ship, "General Baquedano", along with a ceremonial sword that belonged to an officer who served on board the vessel during one of its voyages circumnavigating the globe, will be displayed as part of an exhibition at Hong Kong's new Maritime Museum.
The General Baquedano is not just any ship; it is a symbol of Chile's vibrant relationship with Asia. Chile is the first Latin American partner to sign a free trade agreement with Hong Kong. The agreement affirmed that principles such as accountability, transparency, security and the rule of law constitute the fundamentals for any credible partnership.
This relationship goes back even further. In November 1900, while the training vessel was undertaking its first ever visit to Hong Kong, one of its crew members, midshipman Carlos Krug Boonen, died and was laid to rest with full military honours in a plot at St Michael's Catholic Cemetery in Happy Valley.
Today, Chile and Hong Kong are partners in the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum as well as in the World Trade Organisation, promoting common views on a number of initiatives geared towards opening up markets, rather than relying on protectionism to safeguard industries. Both are steadfast achievers when it comes to empowering service-sector businesses as well as knowledge-based enterprises that place innovation as a core strength.
While Chile is a proven gateway for trade and finances from Asia to Latin America, Hong Kong is a prime destination for Latin American businesses vying for a place for their products or services in China's first-, second- and third-tier cities. The fact that Chile was the first Latin American country to conclude a free-trade agreement with China adds positive momentum to ties between this part of the world and South America's most competitive economy.
Chile and Hong Kong have concluded a bilateral agreement on wine promotion and one on reciprocal tax exception for shipping income. An agreement between InvestHK and Chile's Foreign Investment Committee and one on labour co-operation are both also in place.
Work is under way for a working-holidays agreement as well as an air-services agreement. The latter will serve to ease flight arrangements between the two places (until the day direct flights are made possible by new aviation technology) at a time in history that has been identified as one which will bring about profound changes for all Pacific-rim peoples.
Given Hong Kong's status as an offshore renminbi market, Chile's Central Bank has incorporated this currency into the country's foreign reserves basket.
The relationship between Chile and Hong Kong embodies a commitment towards linking two areas of the globe that present a luminous future. What more can be asked for as we jointly prepare for the General Baquedano's brass bell to boldly toll and lead us to take bolder steps and broaden horizons as we sail onwards in the Pacific era?
A career diplomat, Mario Ignacio Artaza heads Chile's Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau