Leadership and trust at heart of Hong Kong future

By Anton Colella, ICAS CEO

11 February 2015

ANTON'S ACCOUNT: Looking back on my recent time in Hong Kong, I was struck by the role that business leaders must play to safeguard the city's stability and prosperity.

No assessment of the global economy can afford to ignore Asia, a region that has become increasingly important to growth worldwide. Not surprisingly, ICAS members are well represented in Singapore and Hong Kong, two of Asia's leading financial centres.

ICAS President Jann Brown CA and I had the great privilege of meeting CAs in both of these cities over the past week. We attended two evening social gatherings for ICAS members, one in Singapore and one in Hong Kong. In both cities, CAs are working with some of the biggest multinational businesses and financial institutions, as well as the pre-eminent professional firms.

Some were there on a relatively short-term posting to gain valuable international experience; some are long-term residents, whether expats or from the local community, who have become established figures in the business scene.

Overall the mood was upbeat and the view from an Asian perspective, even with some concerns over the relative slowing of economic growth in China, makes a refreshing change from comparative gloom in Europe.

In Hong Kong, with Jann and Ken Morrison CA – chairman of the ICAS community in Hong Kong – I also attended a fascinating roundtable discussion on the territory and its relationship with its much larger neighbour.

Since the handover from British rule in 1997, Hong Kong has been designated as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. China's approach has been "one country, two systems" and, so far, that appears to have stood Hong Kong in good stead.

In the long term, in 2047 Hong Kong is set to be fully integrated into the People's Republic. Exactly what that will mean is still unclear. Meanwhile, in the short-term, last year's demonstrations under the "Occupy Central" banner have raised fresh doubts over the SAR's political direction.

In 2017, Hong Kongers will vote for their next chief executive; a debate is currently under way as to how that process will take place and how much say China will have in the choice of candidates. The "pro-democracy" campaigners are calling for universal suffrage without constraints; others argue that Hong Kong's prosperity and existing freedoms depend on maintaining a harmonious relationship with the Beijing government.

One of the messages to emerge from the roundtable discussion was the importance of two factors – leadership and trust – in steering Hong Kong through this potentially difficult situation. And this is not just a matter for the politicians. There is a vital role for civic society in all of this, and that includes business and professional leaders, who will need to step up and play their part if Hong Kong's stability and prosperity are to continue.

Just as in the UK, leaders in business cannot afford to leave their voices out of the public debate.


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