Steve Bannon takes a trip down memory lane in Hong Kong

Former Trump strategist recalls visiting the city as a US sailor in the 1970s

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 September, 2017, 11:24pm

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon says he still remembers the day he approached the shores of Hong Kong on a US destroyer four decades ago.

“We were anchored right out here, about 1,000 yards out,” he said, looking out the window of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai across the harbour.

“I fell in love with it right away. It was the Orient. It was the whole mystery out there,” Bannon said in an interview with the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.

Widely known as one of the White House’s most hawkish voices on China during his brief stint at US President Donald Trump’s side, Bannon said it was his “tremendous admiration” for the country since childhood that drew him to Hong Kong when it was still a colony under British rule.

China and US can avoid trade war - if Beijing stops ‘appropriating our technology’, says Steve Bannon in Hong Kong

“As a little boy, I’d always wanted to come to China. That’s one of the reasons I joined the Pacific Fleet. It was to serve my country but also to make sure I got in the Pacific Fleet not the Atlantic Fleet because I wanted to come to Asia,” he said.

Bannon described Hong Kong in the 1970s as “much more old China” with “such a rich flavour”, which he said he missed amid the modern, bustling Hong Kong of today.

His “tremendous admiration” for China might come as a surprise to many who have followed Bannon’s China-bashing comments back home, including his recent declaration that “China is at economic war with the US” and his comparison of China to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Steve Bannon: Forget talk of military solutions to North Korea threat - US must first engage China to rein in Pyongyang

But in Hong Kong – the first stop on his first high-profile overseas trip since he left the West Wing and returned to run far-right website Breitbart News in August – Bannon took a diplomatic and conciliatory tone.

He praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, denied he was ever “anti-China”, and recalled almost wistfully the years he spent working in Hong Kong and Shanghai a decade ago.

That was despite being greeted by dozens of protesters with banners calling him a “toxic nationalist” outside an investor forum organised by CLSA, where he was due to give a speech on Tuesday.

After his first experience of Hong Kong as a US sailor, Bannon returned to the city in 2005 to work at a start-up online gaming company, Internet Gaming Entertainment, and later moved to Shanghai with the firm, staying in China until 2008.

Steve Bannon unloads on China ahead of Hong Kong speech, declaring Beijing ‘the biggest problem’ for Trump

“The people [in Hong Kong] are very nice ... but very focused on getting their stuff done. There wasn’t a lot of lallygagging around,” he recalled, adding that Hong Kong and Shanghai were “very, very different”.

“It seems to me that there is more of an electric energy of the people in Hong Kong. Every time I’ve ever come, Hong Kong has this energy of capitalism right there, whether you’re in Kowloon or here on the island side, it’s just energy all over,” he said.

“People are so engaged with their work, this hustle and bustle – it’s unique. There is nowhere else in the world you have this ... Every time I come back I realise how much I miss it.”