I am just wrapping up a one week visit to Hong Kong. I am (was?) here to cover eight depositions in a case pending in Kentucky Federal Court in a case I was brought in on as international counsel. Co-blogger Steve Dickinson came here as well to assist with the depositions and to make sure the Mandarin to English interpretation remained on the up and up. The opposing side had one China and two U.S. lawyers.
I do not purport to know Hong Kong terribly well as my firm now does very little work there. There was a time where we fairly frequently helped our clients (mostly non-American clients) form companies in Hong Kong, but that work started dropping off around three years ago. Now when clients talk about wanting to form a Hong Kong company to go into mainland China we tell them doing so will in most cases do little more than increase their costs. Rarely does it make sense to do anything other than just go into China directly by forming a company there.
This was my first time here in more than five years. I mostly these days either fly direct to China or through Seoul or Tokyo.
Here are my highly subjective thoughts:
1. This is truly an international city. That term is probably applied too often, but it definitely fits Hong Kong. By international I mean there are people from all over the world living here and who influence its culture. If I had to name the top three most international cities, I would say New York (America), London (Europe) and Hong Kong (Asia). Hong Kong just feels way more international than Shanghai or Beijing.
2. This city is more orderly than any mainland city. It is clean and efficient. Things just work. Service is with a smile. The taxi drivers are polite and they know where they are going. Its public transportation is as clean and efficient as any in the world. Hong Kong feels accomplished while Shanghai and Beijing feel like they are still striving. At one point, Steve told me some of his friends from Shanghai like coming to Hong Kong for three to four days just to get away from the chaos/stress of Shanghai. Steve said he understands why.
3. Hong Kong is more open than the mainland. I know there are those who assert Hong Kong’s press has been muzzled by the mainland powers and I know that politics here are not wide open, but I can tell you that reading the English language newspapers here feels like reading a real newspaper and not like government propaganda.
4. Hong Kong is a food city. I have eaten Japanese three times, Thai twice, French, Italian, Hong Kong, Phillipino, and Sichuan, and all were really good. I see Chinese as a food culture and Hong Kong’s wealth puts that on steroids. The Lan Kwai Fang [restaurant] District is just flat out cool.
5. Man, but Hong Kong hotels are expensive, or at least they are when the huge conventions are in town. We started out in the $300 a night Renaissance Hotel and it was not at all luxurious. My room had a great view, but it was tiny and the service was mediocre. I stayed there two nights but fled when I could no longer handle its less than stellar internet connection. I also did not appreciate how the workout facility was in another building. I moved to the JW Marriott on Queensway, which was even more expensive, but only minutes away by foot from the building in which our depositions were taking place. The rates we got were actually quite good as most hotels were booked or charging hundreds of dollars more. It certainly did not help that Hong Kong’s massive yearly home show is taking place right now.
7. There are securities firms and banks everywhere here and Hong Kong is still the financial center (or should I say centre?) of Asia. Its combination of no capital controls, an independent judiciary, low taxes, a free press, and good communications has put it safely out in front in this arena and I do not see Shanghai catching up for some time, if ever. I have a lawyer friend from Seattle, Steve DeGracia, who is a finance lawyer at Paul Hastings’ Hong Kong office, which is the base of one of the strongest corporate finance departments in Asia. Steve and I were supposed to meet up at some point in Hong Kong but I ended up without a spare moment. Amazingly enough, by sheer coincidence, I ran into Steve and his lovely wife (whom he met while working in Seoul a few years ago) and 20 month old daughter during a lunch break between depositions. What are the odds of that?
As always, the comment lines are open. Is Beijing’s handling of Hong Kong a portent of what Beijing would like to see happen on the mainland? Is Hong Kong a portent for China’s future? Is it even relevant?