Madame Deneffe of Belgium announces the launch of the first ever Belgium Week in Hong Kong.
Unexpected adventures always add flavour to a diplomat’s career, but it is usually the unseen and technical desk works that really count in the international arena. For Michele Deneffe, Consul General of Belgium in Hong Kong since August 2015, it is the undercover work that has defined her multilateral-focused profession.
Mrs Deneffe has joined the diplomatic world in 1989 and it has been a “busy but quiet” 27 years. She was posted twice in Geneva in the Belgian Permanent Representation at the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Agencies, in the Belgian Embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and in Beijing as Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission from 2005 until 2008. Before arriving in Hong Kong, she was in charge of the Department of Northern Africa and Middle East in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Subtle yet vital
More often, in the case of Mrs Deneffe’s postings in Geneva and Vienna, the adventures are on the meeting and negotiation tables where treaties and agreements were signed after days and nights of technical bargaining. But it was not always as ordinary as it seemed. In Africa in the 1990s for example, Mrs Deneffe was also called into action when some Belgian companies were dragged into a controversy surrounding diamonds mined in war zones, the much reviled ‘blood diamonds’. While there was no field investigation by the diplomat herself, it did take considerable efforts to coordinate follow-up response from Brussels which subsequently led to the conference in Kimberley that created the certification process that marked the beginning of the end of the blood diamond trade.
“Belgium, which is a leading country in diamond trade, was very involved from the start in the work about diamond certification. […] It was an important work for us diplomats to explain and correct some misunderstandings on the image of the country in relation to this issue,” Mrs Deneffe recalls.
The same applied to Mrs Deneffe’s tenure in Beijing between 2005 and 2008 as Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission in the Embassy of Belgium there. Apart from the frequent high-level visits from all levels of the Belgian government to Beijing three years ahead of the Olympic Games, there was a more tricky task of having to reply to Beijing’s antagonism over a nine-day visit by the Dalai Lama in Belgium in 2006. In addition there was indeed a cancelled visit in 2007 amid alleged pressure from Beijing. Again, behind the media headlines it was the diplomats who negotiated the treacherous shoals of discord.
“The visit [by the Dalai Lama] was kind of a classical problem for most European countries and it remains a very sensitive issue,” Mrs Deneffe notes. “You had to underline very clearly that the visit had no political objective as Belgium abides by the ‘One China Policy’ and circumscribe the visit in the framework of a very spiritual context to avoid any misperception from China. But that was very difficult to convince Beijing so. It’s an exercise of public diplomacy.”
A Smurfing good time with Tintin in Town
Despite the tough task, Mrs Deneffe has a very positive image of China, and in particular Chinese tea, which eventually prompted her to apply for the top post in Hong Kong. Now amid a growing number of cultural festivals in recent years following Le French May, Mrs Deneffe is launching the first ever Belgium Week which is on now and lasts from 12 to 19 November. The programme features a variety of events showcasing the country’s music, gastronomy, art. In particular, an exhibition of Belgian comic strip art with the iconic The Adventures of Tintin is hosted at the Comix Home Base in Wanchai.
Besides comics, Mrs Deneffe also notes a growing presence of the Belgian community, as well as its surprising whisky, sparkling wine and caviar in Hong Kong. Bilateral trade between Belgium and Hong Kong remains relatively stable with a high growth of percentage related to the diamond trade. Among the 28 EU member states, Belgium ranks sixth for the exports to Hong Kong and fifth for imports from Hong Kong, while Hong Kong is the fourth destination of Belgian exports to Asia and eighth source of imports from the Continent. Cécile Jodogne, Secretary of State of the Brussels-Capital Region, will also visit Hong Kong on 18 November following a trip to Guangzhou.
The Belgium King’s Day celebration on 14 November was honoured by the visiting HRH Princess Maria Laura of Belgium, Archduchess of Austria-Este. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah (曾俊華) was the guest of honour. He was on his usual charm offensive and hailed the longevity of the Belgium Consulate General which was established back in 1926.
“The opportunities for business cooperation between our two economies look good – very good indeed. And I invite more Belgian companies, startups, entrepreneurs and investors to join us – artists, football players, and mussel-lovers too,” Tsang stated in his speech.