In China's Future, Where's Hong Kong Fit In? pt 2
- Alex Fong is the CEO of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, a driving force in the structure and focus on Hong Kong's economy for the past 150 years. As Hong Kong integrates more deeply into an ever-more global China, we wanted to ask Alex, who was previously in charge of security during Hong Kong's handover to the PRC, how the economic, financial, and cultural aspects of the integration are proceeding
THE CHINA BUSINESS NETWORK
: I’m Janet Carmosky and I’m interviewing Alex Fong, the CEO of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. I wanted to talk about culture and language and the training of human capital. The school systems throughout the Pearl River Delta – Guangzhou – are Mandarin, technically. And of course Shenzhen particularly and Guangzhou attract talent from all over China, so it kind of speaks a lot for Mandarin historically that Hong Kong – well, Hong Kong certainly speaks a lot more Mandarin now than it certainly did before ’97, but that was quite awhile ago. What can you tell us about the media and cultural landscape, and the integration of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta right now?
: I’ll give you some interesting statistics. We have the Putonghua Shuiping Ceshi, which is the Putonghua standard test. It was introduced in Hong Kong in 1996 to answer the increasing demand for Putonghua fluency qualification. More than 60,000 students from eleven tertiary education institutes passed the test since 1996. So students do take those tests to indicate that they are at proficiency. In our primary and secondary schools, since 1998, our students have been taught Putonghua to facilitate what we call Biliteracy and Trilingual Education. So the students who now finish Putonghua education in government-funded schools in Hong Kong should be able to listen, speak and read in Putonghua, and translate Putonghua into Cantonese. The younger people are actually quite well-trained in Putonghua now.
The problem as I see it for Hong Kong students is really the cultural experience, which they need to build up, because across the border they have been subject to different political systems and different ways of life. And we always tell our young people that it’s important for them to travel more frequently to China or even live there for some time so that they understand better how thing work there, because if you want to study or work there, you have to integrate yourself with the community.
Another interesting indication is that there is an increasing number of Hong Kong University placements being taken up by Chinese students from the mainland. These students come here to study for three or four years, become very conversant in Hong Kong culture and language – many of them learn Cantonese in the process – some of them may be married to Hong Kong spouses, and some of them live here, and some of them live here for awhile and then go back to China and bring Hong Kong culture to China.
: You make it sound sort of like Manhattan and the bridges and tunnels.
: Yeah, somewhat like that. There’s still a big attraction for Chinese students to come to Hong Kong to be educated, other than, say, to overseas. First of all, this is an environment in which they can adapt very easily, and secondly, this is also an international environment, and it’s a great transitional point – they can get their Bachelor’s degree in Hong Kong and then further their studies in the States or other parts (and that’s what most Hong Kong students do). So they can do what we used to do, and then become an international person when they return back to China. But of course, we are very small. We are only 7 million people against the total population in China. So we always tell our young people that it’s important for them to educate themselves about what’s happening in China, because the cities in China are growing so fast. If you’ve been to Shanghai or Beijing recently, they are growing so fast. Both of them have now become bigger than Hong Kong. So you need to catch up with what’s going on and find your space in the overall scheme of things.
: What about Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta – I understand that people growing up in Hong Kong will have larger cultural gaps between them and say, Shanghai or Chongqing or Tianjin – what about Guangdong province and Hong Kong?
: Guangdong province – it’s closest to us, not only by geography (it’s almost like New York City and New York State) – but also by the cultural links. Most of the people in Hong Kong come from Guangdong. We speak the same language, we share our culture – that has made manufacturing work very well for the past thirty years. The model at that time was really that the Hong Kong owners transferred their manufacturing experience to set up factories and still trading with the West. Now, certain things are beginning to change. First of all, the consumer market in the West is slowing down, and so there are a lot of Hong Kong companies that are trying to open the markets in China, just like many other Western companies.
And also, increasingly, it’s not like Hong Kong companies are operating on their own. They will be building partnerships with mainland companies, with overseas companies, and this sort of ‘network approach’ operation is going to increase. It’s just like your company, The China Business Network – the network approach is going to be, I think, the order of the day in the future.
: Yes, it’s at the point where the scale and the pace of development are so overwhelming that there is no shortage of demand for any kind of bridge into and out of China and the West. It takes all of us who are committed to making this happen in a way that’s balanced and sustainable for everybody in the world. You’ve been a very dedicated servant to the cause of Hong Kong as a bridge to the West.
: Well, if I can say a few words about the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce – this is the oldest chamber in Hong Kong. We will be celebrating 150 years next year. And in fact, our membership changes with the times. Right now we have about 4,000 corporate members. 90% are service sector companies – in the area of finance or (unclear) trade tourism, or professional services. About 25% of our members are the big companies, most of them are listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. And then 75% are SME’s, who are operating factory, retail or full-service companies.
As we celebrate our 150 year anniversary, we are thinking about our positioning, because organizations can become aged if you don’t look at its relevance. We’ve seen that we’ve got the right name to explain who we are in current circumstances because our acronym is HKGCC. ‘G’ we think should stand for ‘Globalization’, and ‘C’ for China. So, Hong Kong, Globalization, China – we are the prop to help people do that. We see our role as helping the mainland companies go out, to go into the internationalization process. The venerable 150 years of Hong Kong experience, in terms of our marketing and the links we’ve made with the international world, as well as our financial and human resources links, would be of tremendous value to these mainland companies.
On the other hand, these smaller American and European companies look at China as a maze when they do business with them. They are going to find it much easier to find partners from Hong Kong. If anyone is interested to work through us, we welcome them to contact us. In fact, we are signing up a special consulting team that will deal with requests like this because there is tremendous opportunity in this area, and we’d like to work with your network and the companies that are interested in taking advantage of this.
: Thanks very much, Alex. Alex Fong is a charter member of The China Business Network. You can contact him through the network, or you can look at the website
. Thanks very, very much.
: Thank you.
This part 1 of this interview can be found here.
Alex Fong took up the post of CEO of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce on September 1, 2006. Prior to this position, he was the Principal Hong Kong Economic and Trade Representative (Tokyo). Mr Fong had worked in the Hong Kong Government for over 20 years prior to joining the Chamber, holding various postings. See more