Shout from the rooftops for Hong Kong

By Duncan Abate

Shout from the rooftops for Hong Kong

I arrived in Hong Kong from the UK in August 1994. Since then I have worked for the same law firm my entire time in Hong Kong; starting as a junior lawyer and now working my way through the ranks to become part of the management team. Like many other expats who have come to call the city home, I was drawn to the abundance of opportunities and by the spirit of enterprise for which Hong Kong is known.

And like many other global businesses, my firm, Mayer Brown, has benefited greatly from the vibrancy and dynamism of Hong Kong and the market-driven, can-do, world-class business environment that, together with its robust legal system, has enabled international business to flourish.

What has happened over the last 4 years or so has been deeply unsettling for many of us; both on a personal level (the strict Covid restrictions kept many apart from their loved ones) and also on a business level. Anyone who has been involved in running a global business with feet in both the West and the East will have felt torn in ways that have probably not existed for 30 years.

The firm for which I work is celebrating its 160th anniversary in Hong Kong this year. It has extraordinary and mostly unparalleled roots in Hong Kong’s culture, economy and very fabric. However, it also has a global presence and an English name that many associate more closely with Chicago than China. As such, too often we have had to navigate polarised geopolitical views which result in Hong Kong being used as a convenient political football getting booted around a field.  

Hong Kong is special. The extraordinarily low crime rate, the low tax rates and the simple tax system, the effective civil service and the friendly public service generally all make Hong Kong a truly wonderful place to live and work.

It is also THE gateway to mainland China and I have no doubt at all that it will remain the major international financial center for the region and one of the major global logistics hubs.

Despite the political darts which are regularly thrown in the direction of our judiciary, the reality is that the reputation of our judges and legal system remain the envy of every single jurisdiction in Asia.

Any suggestions about a decoupling of East and West are about two decades too late – our systems are far too intertwined to do anything other than political tweaks around the edges. And in any case, businessmen and women are expert at finding ways round the political limitations in order to ensure that the commercial world continues to revolve and attempts to limit connections in any meaningful way are rendered largely cosmetic.

In short, Hong Kong remains a place where you can get stuff done.

I have seen many friends leave Hong Kong in the last 3 years. Most of these left because they were separated from their children who were overseas. Others left because the geopolitics had damaged the businesses for which they work so badly that their jobs were redundant. None of them left because they no longer enjoyed living in Hong Kong. Every single one of those friends who have left miss enormously those wonderful attributes of Hong Kong that brought us here all those years ago and which have kept us here ever since.

Every city, every country and every region face challenges. Hong Kong is no different. The challenge which those of us who are lucky enough to call Hong Kong our home now faces is that of rebuilding Hong Kong’s reputation on a local, regional and global scale. We need to shout from the rooftops all that we know to be wonderful about Hong Kong. Hong Kong is uniquely positioned in the world. It will continue to thrive. International businesses are always going to be part of the fabric of Hong Kong and those businesses must support it at its time of need.

The original version was published on March 2, 2022 on SCMP and this is an updated version from the author.

Duncan Abate is a partner of Mayer Brown. He is the immediate former Chair of the firm’s Asia Board. As a partner in the Employment & Benefits practice in Mayer Brown’s Hong Kong office, he advises on all aspects of employment and employee benefits law and regulation, including discrimination, labour relations, termination of employment, data privacy and the structure of employment relationships. He also advises on the establishment, maintenance and restructuring of occupational retirement schemes and mandatory provident fund schemes, as well as related documentation and services.

Duncan serves on a number of community and business organisations, including the Employers’ Federation of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Retirement Schemes Association, and he is a member of the Election Committee to select the Chief Executive for Hong Kong.