Posted by: Frederik Balfour on March 13, 2008
It’s a rare day indeed when a diplomat will be truly frank when dealing with reporters. It’s even rarer still when one makes his or her comments on the record, as British Consul-General Stephen Bradley did so eloquently today at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club here in Hong Kong. In a talk that spanned everything from democracy in Hong Kong to the deteriorating standards of English in the former British Colony, Bradley didn’t mince his words when he turned to the theme of Hong Kong’s aspirations of becoming a world class city.
“It would be very difficult to say Hong Kong was a great city like New York or London and keep a straight face,” said Bradley, whose four year stint at the top envoy of Her Majesty the Queen is about to end. Describing Hong Kong as a culturally challenged place, the dip said it risks being eclipsed by Shanghai, not as a financial center, but as a cultural hub, which is drawing ex pats by the plane load because “life there is more interesting.” Even Macao boasts “the glory of having a UNESCO world Heritage Site while Hong Kong cowers in its cultural shade,” he said.
Quality of life issues really do matter more and more. Any HR manager or head hunter will tell you that, and cities that offer the most in terms of museums, sports venues, concerts, and theaters has a far better chance of attracting the best and the brightest.
Earlier this week, Sir David Tang, arguably one of the city’s most cultured denizens, sounded a similar theme. “Hong Kong’s reputation as a cultural desert is both fair and unfair” he told a group of journalists in one of the exquisite art deco rooms in the China Club, which Tang founded. He spoke in his capacity as a special advisor to Art HK 08, which its organizers hope will be Hong Kong’s answer to world class international art fairs such as Maastricht, or Basle or Miami-Basle. The fair should boast more than 100 art dealers from around the globe, featuring works by Picasso, Warhol and Francis Bacon alongside some of Asia’s strongest contemporary artists. By the way, Lehman Brothers is the lead sponsor of the fair,
As a regular attendee of both the Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions held in Hong Kong, I can tell you that there’s no shortage of cash. Hong Kong is now the world’s third largest art auction market after New York and London. But whether the city can generate the kind of buzz that other fairs do remains to be seen. And this fair will only last five days. The city has its work cut out for improve its cultural offerings for the other 360 days of the year.