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Jen Kagan Yoga Group

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Those hotels are both social magnets of their own, with buzzy lobbies or rooftop bars, and a stay puts you amid a whirl of international cosmopolitans, and it's fun to experience a stay like that in one of the most exciting cities in the world.


The recent visit of Zhang Dejiang to Hong Kong to, among other things, attend a Belt and Road (B&R) forum, has naturally resulted in a new round of commentary on Hong Kong's possible role in this work in progress. The commentary tends to fall into one of two camps: Either this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or Hong Kong has in fact little added value and participation is a more political than commercial or financial consideration. Caution would not be entirely amiss. Hong Kong has had a dry run of this before with post-Soviet Russia. In spite of there being more obvious synergy between Hong Kong and Russia than, say, Hong Kong and Kyrgyzstan, and in spite of some non-trivial successes in the 1990s - Hong Kong firms were in fact some of the first movers in Russia's emerging financial markets - Russia hardly figures in Hong Kong business and regional strategy. I myself made the strategic argument on many occasions, that since at least 1997 Hong Kong's largest neighbor was no longer the Chinese mainland but Russia, and if Hong Kong wished to be China's New York, it could hardly ignore China's Canada or Mexico. The odd Russian listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange notwithstanding, it never really took off. The bulk of the requirements for the various new Silk Roads will be infrastructural: Railroads, roads, pipelines, physical logistics, construction, etc. While it would be inaccurate to say that Hong Kong has no experience in all these fields, such experience has tended to be in a rather different environment than that pertaining to most of the target B&R countries. Nor does Hong Kong have particularly good contacts in, for example, Central Asia. These projects have almost ipso facto a strong domestic political element, and thus carry non-trivial political risk. Political risk can be mitigated when one knows the lay of the land - and Hong Kong companies have done well in emerging markets where they have deep connections - but Hong Kong is well behind the curve in this region. If one's only added value is money, it can be hard to control outcomes. The B&R train will leave the station regardless of whether Hong Kong is actually on board. If Hong Kong does get on board, it is likely to benefit by focusing on its strengths. Some of these, like finance and law, are obvious, although the application is perhaps a bit more subtle than it might at first appear. If there are winners from B&R, some will be Central Eurasian firms who expand regionally: They will need a regional headquarters for operations and in which to domicile international contracts. Within the B&R region, Hong Kong has few if any competitors for professionalism, integrity and transparency. A somewhat less obvious area of opportunity is "educational services". I use this term rather than "education", because the tangible benefit will accrue from treating this not just as development of human capital but also as an asset that can be monetized. Although I have little truck with international university rankings, it is nevertheless the case that Hong Kong universities compare extremely well with all other institutions of higher learning in the B&R region, especially if the emphasis is on an international-standard education in the world's international language. If a Kazakh or Azeri student wants to study for an international degree, but would like an education with wider applicability than that attainable in the Chinese mainland, where better than Hong Kong? And yes, enough of them will have the means to pay for it. Hong Kong's competition is not so much the mainland as the United States and Britain, both of which are well outside B&R. None of this obviously is as easy as snapping one's fingers: Hong Kong education policies from tuition and accommodation to the curriculum are still largely tuned - as they should be - to local students. Some thought would need to be given to how these might be adjusted to accommodate a commercially interesting influx of B&R region students. One would need to make the case that a Hong Kong-based business or hotel management course is much more relevant to B&R students than those elsewhere. This might in turn drive development of and demand for more courses in Central Asian studies, which would be not a bad thing: This is a region which is, on the whole, underserved by the international academic community. And although residents are wont to complain about pollution and much else, Hong Kong's quality of life is nevertheless quite a bit better than regional cities of its class. As a final fillip, it is worth remembering that many of the B&R countries are to a greater or lesser extent Muslim; cosmopolitan Hong Kong's reputation for cultural and religious tolerance should stand it in good stead. Sometimes one just needs to take the one road less traveled. (HK Edition 06/03/2016 page7) 041b061a72

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