The Hong Kong public has been regaled recently with some pretty lurid tales concerning people in high places, of alleged business skullduggery, infidelity, and naughty pictures. Tales, particularly from the entertainment industry that sadly, have become rather commonplace elsewhere in the world with the high profile troubles of the likes of Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears and Pete Doherty. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, I guess, so I do confess to being just a little puzzled by some pretty strange utterances from people who, perhaps, should not be taking the first steps, but there we are.
I am not about to add to those comments. "So", you may ask, "why write anything at all?" It's because all the comments I have read so far have focused on Hong Kong. They tell the tale, understandably, in relation to what is happening in our own backyard. And they have focused more on the dirty pictures than the other issues - because they sell more papers. But my concerns are more business related, as I wonder whether there are any implications for Hong Kong in a broader sense?
In the run up to 1997, and the change of sovereignty, outsiders and even insiders expressed concerns about the continued integrity of Hong Kong under Chinese rule. What would happen, was the question, to the rule of law and the many other positive characteristics of which Hong Kong had good reason to be proud? Sure, Hong Kong had suffered ignominy in the past over incidents that, for example, had led to the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
But Hong Kong entered July 1997 with its head held high and a business reputation that was intact. As fears about China's influence over or possible interference in Hong Kong's business community receded in the light of experience, I believe that many people and enterprises around the world looked at the Hong Kong model as one that would support their comfort-levels as they entered the opening, but largely unknown, China market.
For example, a review of the figures from Transparency International in their global Corruption Perception Index of 1998 had China in 52nd place, (tied with Zambia), while Hong Kong occupied the 16th slot. In the latest index for 2007, China has slipped to 72nd place (admittedly from a very much larger survey; Zambia is 123rd) but Hong Kong has improved to 14th place. Clearly, to have improved upon our position is a feather in our cap, but all of these recent, widely reported, incidents have not only sent shock waves through Hong Kong, but have appeared in a multitude of periodicals and other media overseas.
What we should not do, therefore, is believe that what we have here is reporting on a purely domestic lowering of standards. A situation that will last until the next scandal comes along, and life can just go on as if nothing had happened. We are very well aware that reputations are not built and delivered overnight, but we are equally well aware that they can be destroyed in a nanosecond. We need to be very clear, in the face of growing competition not only from cities in China but elsewhere in the region and around the globe, that our reputation as a place to do business is admired and that transgressions, especially where trust is concerned, are not tolerated.