Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 29 November 2013
I have been spending this week in Hong Kong as a guest of the Hong Kong government. To be frank, when I received the invitation to visit the Special Administrative Region (that is the name and status after it was handed back from Britain to China in 1997), I was not quite sure why they have such a programme for international visitors (mainly politicians and business people), let alone why I would be chosen to participate in it.
All of this became clearer throughout my visit. The schedule put together by the SAR government is aimed at showing itself to the world and uses thought leaders to amplify this message. Hong Kong certainly has a lot to present and much to be proud of: it is still the world’s freest economy and one of the least corrupt, for that matter. Its financial market is the second largest in Asia (after Japan), and the economic integration with China presents further economic opportunities.
Outside Hong Kong, however, the awareness of Hong Kong’s position is diminishing. Whereas previously Hong Kong was an island of prosperity in an underdeveloped Asia, and later a gateway for dealings with mainland China, China itself has built similarly impressive cities and opened itself to the world. A gateway to China is not needed as much nowadays.
Hong Kong is trying to stay on the world’s radar with its own story, its own identity and its own advantages. This is the reason for inviting international guests such as myself and putting them through a densely packed meetings-and-visiting programme.
Ironically, as the Hong Kong government is trying to show itself to the world, I notice in passing that New Zealand suffers from a similar perception issue here. At all my meetings here with government representatives and business leaders, I asked what, conversely, do they know about us? What associations do they have when they hear New Zealand?
Their answers are sobering. In Hong Kong New Zealand is best known for its race horses, which are a popular import. The All Blacks are also famous here. Beyond that, there is hardly any detailed knowledge about New Zealand. Some people have heard that New Zealand apparently had a dairy industry, but that is as detailed as it gets.
It does not lack irony that as I am invited on a programme to ensure that Hong Kong retains its global visibility, I come to realise that New Zealand would probably need an image campaign more than them.