Bulletin: Congratulations on being elected as Chamber Chairman. You are Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive of HSBC: why did you decide to take on the role of HKGCC Chairman, in addition to your busy day job?
Peter Wong: First of all, I want to say I am very honoured to have been elected Chamber Chairman, and I’m looking forward to serving all of our members over the next year and I’d like to thank Aron (Harilela) for all the work he has done to build the standing and effectiveness of the HKGCC over the past two years.
I’ve been in banking for 40 years and I feel very fortunate to have seen first-hand the growing success of Hong Kong, alongside the development of Mainland China. This has been a privilege and the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce is an excellent platform for me to give back to society in general and the business community in particular.
I know I’m not alone in this: we have a huge amount of expertise among Chamber members, from major Hong Kong corporates and multinational companies to SMEs and innovative start-ups. Going forward, I hope to put this reservoir of knowledge to good use for the benefit of all of our members and through them for all of Hong Kong.
B: What impact do you think Covid-19 will have on Hong Kong in the short term?
PW: The Covid-19 outbreak means that we are facing a very difficult time. In terms of new cases, Hong Kong’s situation has been improving, but we still face a lot of challenges with the whole global economy being affected.
China, and to a certain extent Asia more generally, represents the supply side of things, and it is going to be a number of months before Europe and the United States – the demand side of the equation – start to recover, and even then it will take time to get the machine going again. Until then Asia is going to have to rely on domestic consumption and stimulus from sectors like infrastructure and housing.
We’re in a relatively good position here in Hong Kong: our financial system is strong and resilient, for example. But the economy does face challenges in a number of key areas like tourism. Since SARS we have greatly expanded our capacity and can now handle as many as 60 million tourists per year. But this crucial sector first came under pressure from social unrest, and now from the Covid-19 outbreak. We are losing a lot of income from tourism spending, but we also have an issue because Hong Kong is now a city with the capacity for 60 million visitors. So there will need to be some restructuring, and we will need to find new opportunities for affected workers and also for graduating students.
I think one of the ways the Chamber can help its members and Hong Kong more generally is by making sure that information on new opportunities – not just in Hong Kong but further afield also – is easily available. The Chamber can use Hong Kong’s overseas liaison offices, the Trade Development Council and our contacts with overseas Chambers to build bridges between our members’ exceptional business, capital and human resources and overseas opportunities, to everyone’s benefit.
B: Outside of Hong Kong, where do you see the opportunities for businesses and young graduates and entrepreneurs?
PW: The Greater Bay Area (GBA) presents a lot of opportunities, particularly in the fields of technology such as robotics, AI, and internet plus. We can see in the Mainland that many services have already migrated towards the digital world. Another area in the GBA where there are a lot of opportunities is healthcare: the healthcare system in Mainland China is growing very rapidly, including its related supply chains. These are in addition to the sectors we are all familiar with like manufacturing, property development and import-export.
But we should also look beyond the Greater Bay Area and Mainland China. Economies across the Asia-Pacific region have grown substantially, so we should be seeking to learn more – and tell our members more – about the opportunities in these countries.
As an international city, Hong Kong is a natural partner for businesses seeking to expand across the region. We have the best service standards, best banking standards and best legal services. But we need to continue to attract talent to Hong Kong to ensure this remains the case.
I think this is very important, because this is how Hong Kong has survived and thrived for so many years: being an international city that attracts some of the best talent from around the world.
B: Do you expect the way the world does business will return to how we operated before the coronavirus?
PW: Covid-19 will change the way we do business. For example, many people have been working from home recently, so we need to consider: do we need so much commercial space?
Companies may reduce the amount of space they rent, and perhaps have more staff working remotely. To facilitate this, digital capabilities will continue to evolve. The Covid-19 crisis has had one benefit to business in that it has accelerated the move to digital; many of us are now comfortable using video conferencing platforms.
The Chamber can be more dynamic as well. In the future, members will have the added option of accessing our events remotely, and we can also link with experts in other countries to speak to our members.
B: There is a perception that Hong Kong is a little bit behind when it comes to utilizing technology. Do you think we need to do more to encourage businesses to embrace technology?
PW: Certainly, technology is not being used in Hong Kong as much as some other locations. If you look at the Mainland, for example, a lot of banking and payment activities are already taking place online and we need to be aware that across all industries the direction of change is towards digital. Voice recognition is very prevalent in Mainland China right now, and this is something that is going to become more widespread. Technology will change many sectors – even seeing a doctor can be done online, for example.
To encourage this, I think the Hong Kong Government needs to have policies, such as tax advantages and subsidies, to support digitisation. You can’t just say that you want to develop an industry and expect it to happen automatically.
We also need to attract and retain talent in this area. We know that the drone-maker DJI was launched by students in Hong Kong before the company moved to Shenzhen: there is a lot of talent in Hong Kong, but we need to make sure that they are discovered and that their skills are being harnessed.
B: What other areas do you see as being key for Hong Kong’s economic development?
PW: In the future, sustainability and green issues will become more and more important. Some of our members are operating in a sustainable way, but I think that, generally speaking, the business community in Hong Kong is not fully up-to-date with this global trend. If we want Hong Kong to catch up, businesses need more information about state-of-the-art green developments, so they can follow these new standards of sustainability and also come up with their own innovative ideas.
At the Chamber, we need to provide information to our members on this topic and help them find and create opportunities in this rapidly developing sector.
I also think that Hong Kong should do more to widen students’ horizons. The Chamber can engage with students to help them see the huge range of opportunities available in the business world, both inside Hong Kong and within the region. Connecting with students and young people is also consistent with the Chamber’s aim to give back to society. So, I was delighted to see the launch of the Chamber’s Business Case Competition last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing the innovative ideas that the students come up with in this year’s contest.
B: Another major global issue has been the rise in protectionism, particularly the U.S.-China trade tensions. How do you think this is likely to play out?
PW: Between now and the U.S. presidential election in November, there will be a lot of noise, so we will have to wait until after the election to see the real picture. However, change happens and people adapt – we have seen how businesses adapted to the coronavirus situation. In future, businesspeople will look for new markets if trade with the U.S. is impacted.
And that is why digital is very important. Nowadays, when exploring new markets, we don’t need to visit customers on a regular basis as we did in the past. Once you have established a business relationship, everything can be done remotely. Things can change very quickly, and the Chamber can certainly help our members in many ways that range from sharing industry updates to exploring new markets.
As I mentioned earlier, Hong Kong has proven that it is extremely resilient and adaptable, and although there are challenges ahead, I remain confident about the city’s future.
B: What key message do you want to send to members as you take over the Chairman’s role?
PW: I hope to send a call to action to our members to participate more actively in the Chamber so that we can better reflect the views of the business community to the Government. To do that, we need to know what members want, what help they are looking for, and what difficulties they are having. I hope to engage members more frequently, whether through surveys or open forums, so that we can tailor our work programme accordingly.
We have seen how important this is over the past few years, with the introduction of a number of controversial policies like MPF offsetting, minimum wage, and standard working hours. This does not mean that they were bad policies, rather that they were complex issues that needed a lot of debate. These are difficult questions and demand difficult discussions, but we should not shy away from them. The more informed opinions that go into their formulation, the better the policies will be.
The Chamber has fantastic insight, unrivalled knowledge and a deep pool of expertise to draw on from among its members. We need to ensure that we make full use of these resources so that we can put forward our views and ultimately create a better Hong Kong for all citizens.