Bellissima Italia, amica di Hong Kong

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The Italian Consul General has big plans to extend the influence of the growing Italian community in Hong Kong.

Photo: Consul General De Riu at the Italian Republic Day reception.

Italians punch far above the weight of their population in Hong Kong. From the awe of Italian football and the dominance of street level fashion in Central to the high Italian and low copies of Italian food across the city, Italian culture is felt everywhere.

This is especially impressive given their small, but growing, numbers here. The number of Italian passport holders registered as Hong Kong residents recorded an impressive jump by more than 70% to above 3,500 between 2011 and March 2016. For Italian Consul General Antonello De Riu, this is a sign that the Mediterranean nation’s interest in Hong Kong is growing.

Read also: Oriente Antonello: A diplomat’s espresso

Beautiful Italy

One of the initiatives to take advantage of this increasing Italian presence in Hong Kong is “Bellissima Italia”, or Beautiful Italy. First organised between October 2015 and December 2015 by the Consulate General of Italy, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Italian Trade Commission and the Italian Chamber of Commerce, Bellissima Italia featured 51 events to further strengthen the image of Italy as a leading cultural exporter. Events ranged from wine tastings and fashion nights to operas and movie screenings.

This year’s Bellissima Italia will see even more events. Although the size of the Italian community is about one-fourth that of the French population in Hong Kong, it is hoped that, given time, people will speak of Bellissima Italia in the same breadth as Le French May. The initiatives received special mention from the Consul General as he delivered his speech at the 2 June Italian Republic Day reception.


Il canto degli Italiani

As De Riu acknowledges, there is still much to be done to strengthen the solidarity among Italians in Hong Kong. To this end, the consulate is planning to hold the first networking event for Hong Kong-based Italian researchers, academics and startup workers.

On the business side, Hong Kong’s bilateral merchandise trade with Italy is growing at an average rate of 5.6% a year. Italian business remains well represented in sectors such as food and wine, banking, fashion and luxury goods, transportation, automotive manufacturing, trading and retail. The consul general, however, is looking for more in terms of investment inflows from a city that came second in global foreign direct investment flows.

“The highest-valued single investment to Italy from the Greater China region was from Hong Kong in the case of the CK Hutchison with its entry into the Italian mobile communication market with the brand 3 Italia. But generally speaking, mainland China is still the main source of FDI in this region,” De Riu explains. “Hong Kong businessmen are much more careful in coming into Italy than their mainland counterparts, perhaps because of the higher tax rates in Italy.”

Now with the Italian-Hong Kong comprehensive agreement for the avoidance of double taxation put in place and the EU tax ‘blacklisting’ issue put to rest, the focus is on enhancing bilateral investments. The consulate will take part in a seminar for Hong Kong’s business community on 22 June as part of an Asian roadshow led by Borsa Italiana, joined by some of the top Italian firms, including Telecom Italia and automotive brake system manufacturer Brembo. The event will be hosted by Generali Hong Kong.


All roads lead to Rome

China’s Belt and Road initiative is important for all. For De Riu, the road is destined to reach the Apennine Peninsula. “Compared to China, Italy has a stronger presence in the Middle East and part of Africa. So there are certainly areas that we can cooperate on,” De Riu says. “Even from an ideological point of view, we have long been immersed in this kind of strategy with the likes of Marco Polo and Michele Ruggieri [considered to be the first European sinologists]. So we have every reason to get in there.”

De Riu and his predecessor, Dr Alessandra Schiavo, who wrote the book “500 years of Italians in Hong Kong & Macau” during her tenure, have worked hard to bring Hong Kong and Italy closer together. For his part, De Riu is eyeing something that can become a trademark for Italian culture and business to thrive “beautifully”.


Handsome and Gorgeous!

Yesterday (2 June), De Riu led the Italian Republic Day celebration in Hong Kong at Central Plaza’s sky lobby. Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen was the guest of honour. Apart from the usual court presentation-style speech that defines the legal chief, Yuen did manage to get a laughter from the floor when he got an answer each from two of his office staffers on ‘What is Italy?’ – And the answers were “Handsome men” and “Very gorgeous women”.