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THERE is an almost Zen-like calm surrounding the man who holds the reins to Hong Kong’s financial future. Given the pressure that comes from holding the job as Financial Secretary (FS), John Tsang Chun-wah’s steady, serene outlook is all the more impressive.

This he puts down to his many years of training in fencing and the martial art of “tiger crane” kung fu. Both disciplines, he says, help develop one’s determination and power of concentration. “One can learn how to maintain a clear and calm mind when facing an opponent. When fencing, a moment’s distraction will give the opponent a chance to take advantage and attack. If one is anxious and too eager to launch attacks, one may be thrown off balance and expose his/her weaknesses, and as a result, be defeated,” Mr Tsang said.

This strength of mind may serve Mr Tsang well, given the global volatility and pressure facing Hong Kong’s economy. The next Budget, he says, will definitely be more challenging in light of a slowdown in growth of advanced economies in Europe and the United States, financial turbulence and the global trend of rising inflation.

“I am particularly concerned about the impact of the rising cost of living on the lower income group in our society. My priority will be to roll out more measures to help tide them over,” Mr Tsang said.

Business opportunities

Mr Tsang says he will be placing much emphasis on the creation of business opportunities. “I will step up our outreach to the emerging economies and strengthen our international ties. In the past few months, we have led delegations from different sectors to Russia, Vietnam, India and the Middle East.”

He says the business delegation he led to India last December was a good example of how actively engaging such burgeoning economies could result in great benefits for Hong Kong. “The resultant increase in the number of direct flights between Hong Kong and Indian cities as well

as triple-digit increases in our exports to India in the past few months are not mere accidents that just happened. They are clear indications of the enhanced interest between Hong Kong and India,” he said.

Mr Tsang says one of Hong Kong’s big selling points is its free-market economy, “Hong Kong is very open and there is also our geographical advantage —— we have the Mainland, our hinterland just to the north of our boundary.”

And it is not just Asia’s emerging economies that are on Mr Tsang’s list. Recently he visited Central Europe. He sees big two-way trade opportunities with this part of the world and later this year he will be visiting other emerging markets in South America to further explore opportunities.

“The Government’s role in this opening-up process is to explain Hong Kong’s advantages to business leaders in these new markets, raise the profile of our city and build closer international ties,” Mr Tsang said. “The rest is up to the business community. With Government leading the way, I hope that the private sector will find it easier to do their jobs more effectively. This is a modality that seems to work and I will continue to build on our successes.”

External challenges

The FS says that from a longer term outlook, his biggest challenge will come from the external front. “Hong Kong will face increasing competition brought by globalisation and the emerging regional economies.” he said.