Published: 15:52, June 25, 2024
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Better Hong Kong Foundation’s visionary delegation bolsters European ties
By Lu Wanqing in Hong Kong

Amid global uncertainties, key business leaders from the city foster new trade paths, advocating rapid decarbonization and exploring synergies in green technology and finance

The Better Hong Kong Foundation’s Executive Committee Chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung (standing) gives a welcome speech at a networking luncheon of the Global Solutions Summit in Berlin, Germany. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Karen Tang Shuk-tak, executive director of The Better Hong Kong Foundation, was thrilled when European industry insiders raised their hands, casting a symbolic vote for “faster progress of decarbonization with green technology imports” rather than “a slower one with more protectionist measures taken in the local industry”.

This preference was presented during a sharing session on sustainable development, part of a visit to Paris, France, and Berlin, Germany, in early May by a delegation from the foundation.

Led by its executive committee chairman, Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, and trustee, Adriel Chan Wen-bwo, the delegation included a dozen Hong Kong business leaders from property development, finance and investment, manufacturing, and fashion. Their goal was to find common ground with their European counterparts and foster deeper relationships through people-to-people diplomacy.

Sharing her experience with China Daily, Tang, organizer of the trip, said that during the high-level discussions, attendees recognized the need for broader China-European Union collaboration, particularly in green technology and finance, with a focus on addressing climate change and achieving sustainable development.

Zhu Min (right), former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, speaks at the session “Sustainability in China”, co-moderated by The Better Hong Kong Foundation’s Executive Committee Chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung (second from left) and Trustee Adriel Chan Wen-bwo (left). (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The delegation’s discourse included a session in France with Qu Xing, deputy director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, who shared insights on UNESCO’s role in facilitating global exchange.

During strategic discussions with French government officials, including Walid Fouque, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania adviser at the Diplomatic Department of the French President’s Office, and Benoît Guidée, director for Asia and Oceania at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, the delegation learned their views on enhancing the EU’s foreign policy autonomy while remaining open to working with China under “favorable conditions.”

In Berlin, the delegation participated in the 2024 Global Solutions Summit, which encouraged government officials, business leaders, and experts to discuss pressing global challenges and explore innovative solutions.

The foundation took the opportunity to co-host a luncheon and a sharing session featuring talks on China’s role in sustainability.

Tang relayed a broad consensus that China is and will be an indispensable force in achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, with Hong Kong praised as an emerging green finance hub at the heart of the world’s green transformation.

Maurice Gourdault-Montagne (center), former French ambassador to China, receives souvenirs from Karen Tang Shuk-tak (left), The Better Hong Kong Foundation’s executive director, and the foundation’s trustee, Adriel Chan Wen-bwo. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Despite some varied views on China’s post-COVID-19 pandemic economic resurgence, there remained high optimism about its economic fundamentals and future trajectory. This included a contribution from one of the world’s leading luxury groups based in France, which expressed excitement about being part of China’s burgeoning e-commerce boom, with stakeholders reconsidering Chinese stocks and other market opportunities.

The new-energy industry was one of the focal points, as an impending decision on provisional duties on China’s electric vehicles loomed at the time of the visit. Industry insiders, while still concerned about the trade imbalance between European countries and China, signaled their inclination for more free-trade-based cooperation. “In truth, they did not rule out the opportunity to work together,” said Tang.

However, the European Commission’s subsequent announcement on June 12 of its intention to impose extra duties of up to 38.1 percent on imported Chinese electric vehicles, starting in July, has been denounced by China as an erroneous practice undermining the world’s green transition. The sudden decision highlights the necessity for continued dialogue to build mutual trust and cooperation.

Benoît Guidée (second from right), director for Asia and Oceania, Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, France, meets with the delegation. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Devoted to networking

Founded in 1995, two years ahead of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, The Better Hong Kong Foundation was established with the aim of reifying the “one country, two systems” principle and enhancing international confidence in Hong Kong.

From day one, the privately-funded, politically-neutral NGO has been dedicated to promoting stories about Hong Kong and the nation, strengthening the city’s ties with the Chinese mainland and the world, and facilitating East-West dialogue.

“Our objective is to facilitate building mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world through information exchange and education,” said Tang.

“With the history and culture of East-West exchange in Hong Kong, it’s easier for people from Hong Kong to have more direct and frank communication with our counterparts overseas,” she added.

The city’s strategic positioning is only more crucial when viewed against the backdrop of escalating geopolitical strains — inflamed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Middle East crisis, and China-US trade tensions.

“There is a need for us to expand our network and to develop friendships in addition to the US, and as we can see, Europe is keen to develop its strategic autonomy,” Tang said, elaborating on the reasoning behind selecting France and Germany as hosts for the visit.

She pointed out that France’s diplomatic and geopolitical clout as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and Germany’s status as Europe’s economic powerhouse, render them ideal partners for fostering collaboration.

The deeply intertwined trade relations these two countries have long sustained with China respectively add to their appeal. Bilateral trade between China and France surged to $78.9 billion in 2023, with China being France’s most significant Asian trading partner. China’s trade with Germany was worth $270.6 billion in 2023, positioning China as Germany’s largest trading ally for the eighth consecutive year.

The Better Hong Kong Foundation delegation meets with senior management of the Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton Group, including its managing director, Stéphane Bianchi (center). (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Sincerity is key

Reflecting on the visit in May, Tang cherished the genuine sincerity that permeated the delegation’s interactions with their European counterparts. “The delegation made its best attempt to display a balanced view of China’s economic situation and global perspective to participants from the European business community and in return garnered some of their frank, open, and pragmatic insights,” Tang said.

Tang was convinced that the goodwill and shared understanding reinforced through these encounters could lay the groundwork for future concrete collaborations.

“The Europeans attached great value to Chinese business leaders making themselves available to candid and face-to-face dialogues for more grounded insights,” said Tang.

“They wanted to understand also from a more personal perspective how Chinese people see the China-Europe relations,” she said.

She also encouraged reciprocal exploration, inviting foreign heavyweights to witness China’s contemporary landscape firsthand. Plans for such visits are already underway.

China’s Foreign Ministry on May 13 announced it would extend the visa-free policy for short-term visits for 12 countries until the end of 2025. Nationals of 11 European countries with ordinary passports can enjoy visa-free travel to China for purposes such as business, tourism, visiting family or friends, or transit for up to 15 days.

Yves Perrier (second from left), chairman of Bank Edmond de Rothschild, shares his insights with The Better Hong Kong Foundation delegation.(PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The Better Hong Kong Foundation’s event and the expected reciprocal visits exemplify how people-to-people exchanges, or “track-two diplomacy”, can bridge the knowledge gaps between borders, dispel misconceptions, and overcome cultural or geopolitical barriers.

The foundation has previously engaged in high-level visits to the United States, Israel, Türkiye, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, meeting with overseas stakeholders who can offer potential collaboration in various business arenas.

A 20-strong delegation made the foundation’s first visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2023, which came to fruition with four delegation members being invited to speak at October’s Future Investment Initiative 7th Edition Conference in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and December’s Future Investment Initiative Priority Hong Kong summit, reflecting the success of networking efforts.

While hailing the European visit as a resounding success — one that generated promising connections and consensus — Tang confirmed that these efforts will continue to be a part of the foundation’s steadfast commitment in the future.

Tang also conveyed the Hong Kong business community’s optimism about expanding their reach both with the Chinese mainland and overseas, including cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.