Outgoing Austrian Envoy Says “Servus!” to Hong Kong

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Consul General of Austria Claudia Reinprecht talks human rights, Hong Kong’s future, and saying goodbyes in exit interview.

Photo Credit: Jasmine Lee

After four years of serving as the Consul General of Austria to Hong Kong and Macao, Dr Claudia Reinprecht will be taking on her new role as Permanent Delegate of Austria to UNESCO this summer. She will be working on pushing forward human rights for journalists, which she said Austria has been championing in the international arena since 2011

When asked as to where she thought Hong Kong is going in its trajectory, Dr Reinprecht said, “I don’t know where it is going, but I know where it should be going.” She believes that China should maintain its One Country, Two Systems principle, as she cannot see how China can gain from making Hong Kong another Chinese city. She hopes that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy “will stay intact.”

One area where Reinprecht thinks Hong Kong needs to work on is community building, which she says will come as long as there is a successful improvement of the quality of life, in particular through better public participation in policy making and community projects on the ground. ”I also think that there should be more thought given as to how to make more public space in the city available for people to meet and build a community.” She also addresses the standstill on the topic of democratic reform, to which she poses the question, “Are there proper mechanism for dialogue?” She suggests that one way to move past the polarisation of Hong Kong’s populace, would be for Carrie Lam to come up with ways to create less-contentious platforms that encourage dialogue amongst all groups.

“I think that there is a lot of talk about innovation and how Hong Kong can stay competitive, but there is very little discussion about research and development and about a more fundamental change in culture that is needed to reform Hong Kong,” she says, citing both political and economic issues that persist in the city. Despite this “barrier to innovation”, she is confident that this will not deter Hong Kong from building a better future, as she has “never seen a more ingenious result-oriented people than the Hong Kong people”, adding that they are “highly adaptive”. The criticism she has for Hong Kong is constructive but not pessimistic, she sees a good future for the city so long as its people work in the right direction.

As a human rights lawyer, Dr Reinprecht had her own fair share to say on human rights issues in Hong Kong before she departs from the city. One major issue of discussion was LGBTQ+ rights, which she asserts in regards to effective change, her hopes lie with the courts to act on protecting equal rights. The same goes for the rights of domestic helpers and human trafficking, which she has seen little to no progress on. “Hong Kong has no interest in changing the situation for domestic helpers,” she states, as those who pay for their services benefit from their exploitation. But civil society has been strong in the last years creating a new momentum and the EU has made this a clear priority in its human rights work in the city. There has been plenty of discourse surrounding the rights of domestic helpers, and she would like to see further discussion on the government providing public child care facilities in the situation that the pay wages of helpers became less affordable.

Dr Reinprecht admits that while she won’t miss the density of Hong Kong, she will certainly miss the spirit, dynamism, openness, and “yes we can” attitude that she feels is a constant from her time in the city.

Upcoming events held by the Austrian Consulate include a Stammtisch (literally “root or tree trunk table” in German) on 4 July. Stammtisch is a friendly get-together whose name traditionally came from the name for a designated table at a bar that, as an unwritten rule, would be reserved strictly for the regulars. They are also promoting Austrian Airline’s direct flights from Vienna to Hong Kong, with top-tier service and in-flight meals.

Wilhelm Brauner, Chairman of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong, discusses the upcoming publication of Servus Hong Kong II., a beautiful compilation of Austrian history in Hong Kong that celebrates the successes of Austrian immigrants in Hong Kong. Over a decade after the publication of Servus Hong Kong, the second part to this series will also serve as the Consulate’s contribution to the 20th Anniversary of the HKSAR. The new book will feature new Austrian immigrants in Hong Kong who have made significant contributions to the Austrian and Hong Kong communities. The word “servus” meaning “your servant (or “at your service”) ” is a greeting that originates from Latin, but is still used throughout Austria and South Germany.

Claire Hsu, who is of half Austrian descent, is one of the new entries that was added in to Servus Hong Kong II. Hsu is currently working on an Asia Art Archive, which is now the world’s most comprehensive collection of material from Asia’s recent art history. Paul Niel is another new contribution to the book, who has completed many vigorous accomplishments. He has climbed all Seven Summits, and with his wife having mapped coastal pollution in Hong Kong through taking an all-terrain tour around the island.

Servus Hong Kong II. is projected to be released in July.