Hong Kong is on everybody’s mind these days due to the unprecedented protests going on over there. It reminds us that as much as Hong Kong is a Western-friendly font of business opportunity, it is also a possession of China and the political turmoil going on over there is only going to get more complex before anything is resolved – and possibly worse than complex, because China is unlikely to simply allow Hong Kong to do as it likes.
Hong Kong is a strong market for translation services, especially for Cantonese Chinese and English, and has traditionally been a very strong market for high-tech and luxury services as well, as it is a very capitalist society. However, if you’re planning to do some business in Hong Kong there are a few things you should keep in mind before launching any sort of language translation operation or other business.
Know a bit of history: Hong Kong was a British possession and run by the U.K. until 1999 when by treaty it was ceded to China (which had claimed it for decades). As part of the treaty, China guaranteed that Hong Kong would be allowed to keep its uniquely capitalist economy, Western flavour, and democratic government, at least to an extent.
This is the fundamental cause of the recent protests: China is playing fast and loose with these assurances by announcing that while the people of Hong Kong can vote for their own leaders as promised, they will only be able to choose from a slate of candidates that China has approved – essentially making the democratic process useless and meaningless.
Keep these circumstances in mind, because chances are Hong Kong will remain volatile for some time. Weight your opportunities there carefully; the protests shut down the city for several days, and there was little squabbling, but the protest doesn’t have the full commitment of the older generation, and as such could unravel at any time. Tread carefully.
As you might imagine, this also means that the citizens of Hong Kong are careful to separate themselves from the Chinese, even though they share the language and much of the culture. Be careful not to lump them in with mainland China. In fact, it’s best to not have any opinions on that situation or to bring it up at all. You can so easily insult people just by discussing the situation, it’s not worth the risk.
Hong Kong business is very similar to Western business. Meetings and corporate cultures are very similar, and you can generally get by with your current office skills and a solid sense of polite behaviour. Just don’t be fooled by the Western trappings around you: You’re not in America, and you have to remain conscious of the fact that you’re in a foreign culture. Do that and your business adventure in Hong Kong will probably be a very profitable one.