Deutschland und Hong Kong – Alles ist gut.

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Graf Lambsdorff hits the highlights of the HK-German relationship and the focus of his office. It’s not what you would expect.


Graf Lambsdorff arrived in Hong Kong on the 4th of July – an auspicious day for an Americaphile (see lead article). The representative from one of the world’s top exporting nations had a surprise for Diplomat about the main activities of his office here:

“Contrary to what you expect, it is not commerce or business. This consulate is much smaller than most people think.” Political reporting, culture and consular work take up the bulk of the work. There are several reasons for this.

“In principle, we do not do as much trade promotion, business support, dealing with commercial issues like most other consulates do. We still think business should be done by business – and it is!”

“We still think business should be done by business – and it is!”

“If you look at the success of German export business in general: It’s striking to see this is – as it should be in the market – it [market development] should be done by the businesses. Of course we help them if we can or if the need is there. We don’t need many staff here to do that.” Trade relations bear him out in a city awash in BMWs, Mercedes, Siemen’s medical and power infrastructure, Germans foods and wines and much much more.

VZ3X4316“We have a pretty big German Chamber of Commerce here. They’ve been here for [over 30 years]. They are well established… I don’t expect that ever, a German businessman would come here to tell us that the Hong Kong government is not only stupid, but corrupt, and that I need to help. That happens in other countries all the time. Not in Hong Kong, of course. Even if that happened, we would send them straight to the German Chamber of Commerce, because they would know much better how to deal with this.”

He does hope to raise the profile of Hong Kong back in Berlin. “This is not a revolutionary place, this is not a crisis place. This is a most civilised, orderly place, well organised place. You cannot and should not expect to influence any drastic changes.  Diplomats don’t do it themselves anyways. There are enough interesting issues here.

“We have surprisingly little political visits in Hong Kong – currently. That has to do mostly with two things – our election year plus the Euro crisis… With the new government and the new Parliament, this [visits to Hong Kong] will pick up again.”

Since his arrival last year, he has not been overwhelmed by visits as politicians campaigned and dealt with European issues where German is required to take leadership.

“We have surprisingly little political visits in Hong Kong – currently. That has to do mostly with two things – our election year plus the Euro crisis. People cannot go on longer trips outside of Europe. She [Chancellor Angela Merkel] said so herself – because there is constantly something going on in Brussels and Berlin. With the new government and the new Parliament, this [visits to Hong Kong] will pick up again.”

His dry humour showing through, commented “My Canadian colleague [Consul General Ian Burchett] complains that he has so many visitors (Ed. note – true – see HT Vol 1. Issue 1). I told him it is his own fault. You gave so many passports to bright young people from Hong Kong and they went to Canada and now you have the close economic and political ties. That is what you get!”

Double Taxation Agreement

Hong Kong’s efforts in the area of Double Taxation Agreements has three standouts who have not completed or opened negotiations on a DTA: Australia, the USA and Germany. Simply put, with a national election, coalition forming and Europe and Euro saving, German politicians have been a little bit busy. There is an understanding that elements of the German business community would appreciate such an agreement, and now with elections settled and the new Minister of Finance chosen, there is a greater likelihood of progress.

“There have been talks between Hong Kong and the German side. In the past months, it simply was not possible because of the elections. We had to wait to see who was going to be the new finance minister. Now we know; it is the old one.” The Euro continues to take up a lot of political oxygen, so no one is holding their breath.

Free Trade Agreement

“Ideally, you would have a worldwide free trade agreement. The next best solution seems to be regional Free Trade Agreements.” Of course, any agreement would need to be referred to the European Commission, so don’t expect a bilateral German-HK agreement.

Legacy?

Diplomat asked the newly arrived Consul General if he had any specific aims for his stay here. “I’m not a great fan of setting concrete goals in our profession…Foreign policy is not an exact science – thank God! That’s why I like it,actually.”

Science, maybe not. That may be the case. Graf Lambsdorff brings his experience and history to develop diplomacy to the level of an art form. Diplomat is watching closely to see what he will create in Hong Kong.