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Speech by FS at Hong Kong Dinner in Milan (English only) (with photo)

     Following is the keynote speech by the Financial Secretary, Mr John C Tsang, at Hong Kong Dinner in Milan co-organised by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Brussels and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council today (October 29, Milan time):

Jack, Professor (Marco) Simoni, Mr (Maurizio) Del Tenno, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     Good evening.

     It's indeed my great pleasure to be here with you tonight on this special gala occasion - the first Hong Kong Dinner in Milan.

     Tomorrow, of course, as Margaret has just mentioned, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council presents "Think Asia, Think Hong Kong". A valuable forum, it's been organised for Italian companies looking to do business in Hong Kong, as well as in the booming markets of Asia, particularly Mainland China and Southeast Asia, and the ASEAN countries. I shall be speaking at the opening, at the Palazzo Mezzanotte. And I look forward to seeing you there, as well as to talking business with you.

     So, tonight, I am not going to talk much more about business, and there are other things that I would like to share with you about Hong Kong, beginning with politics. I am sure that you are all quite well aware, protests have occupied over the past month our days and nights, our streets and roads, as well as all of our lives in Hong Kong. We are doing our best right now to bridge the differences that exist in our community. We are working hard to create a consensus rooted in our constitution. And I am confident that today's differences will help us realise a better tomorrow in Hong Kong.

     This evening, please allow me to put aside business and put aside making money for just a little while, and touch on the other thing that we also do quite well in Hong Kong - and that is hospitality as well as enjoying the good life, and we learnt that from the Italians. We are, of course, a top tourist destination in the world. There is always something happening somewhere to keep our guests excited in Hong Kong.

     Many tourists come for the brand-name shopping just like they do coming to Milan. And in Hong Kong, shopping is decidedly not a spectator sport. Neither is culture. For Hong Kong, culture, as you know well here, is the bridge that connects us with the past, accentuates the present, and leads us into the future. Our cultural interests and our culture offerings reflect our roots - a city where East meets West. Cantonese opera, in fact, was the first Hong Kong treasure to be inscribed onto UNESCO's "representative list of intangible cultural heritage", but it does not end there.

     The Cheung Chau Bun Festival was named one of the world's "Top 10 Quirky Local Festivals" by and for good reasons. This festival brings to the fore the innocuous sweet bun, a parade of deities, lots of lion dances, floating children and towers made of bamboo poles, all in the name of good fortune. And tons of fun.

     The Bun Festival, together with the Fire Dragon Dance and the Dragon Boat Water Parade, is included in China's national list of intangible cultural heritage. They attract thousands of local and foreign visitors, and you will find it worthwhile to pay us a visit.

     Hong Kong is also blessed with more than 1 000 arts groups. That includes nine flagship performing groups - from the philharmonic and ballet, to our Chinese orchestra and theatre companies. And galleries devoted to international and Chinese art are just as rife as Italian restaurants on the streets of Hong Kong.

     East and West will continue to fashion our distinctive cultural identity - thanks, in part to the West Kowloon Cultural District. It will rise as one of the world's largest cultural centres over the next decade and more.

     Stretching across 40 hectares of Victoria Harbour's prime waterfront, the Cultural District is now taking shape. Starting next year, a waterfront park will open in phases. A Chinese opera venue will be completed in 2017, followed a year later by M+, our state of the art museum complex. This 60 000 square-metre museum will spotlight visual art.

     Cultural offerings are already attracting people to the site. Since 2012, a bamboo theatre was built every year on site during Chinese New Year. The venue is created in about 20 days' time, with craftsmen turning thousands of bamboo poles into an 800-seat theatre for the performance of Chinese opera. That has been the traditional way for people to enjoy theatre.

     Beyond the Cultural District, Kai Tak, the site of Hong Kong's former international airport, is gradually being transformed into a world-class tourism and entertainment hub. It already features the city's new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, located on the former runway. Just one year old, it will position Hong Kong as a regional cruise hub. The cruise centre includes, by the way, Hong Kong's largest rooftop garden, with a stunning vista of the Victoria Harbour.

     Also in the pipeline is a multi-purpose stadium for sports and cultural events, as well as a cluster of luxury hotels and shopping malls, a new CBD with twice as much floor area as Central, and a major tourism node to be located on what was the runway of the former Kai Tai Airport. This space, encompassing both land and water, will take up about 90 hectares.

     On the other side of the harbour, we are creating a 5.6-kilometre promenade. The new waterfront will stretch from Central to Wan Chai. Along the way, there will be plenty of green space, there will be sites for cultural events and, of course, those magnificent harbour views that you will never get tired of enjoying.

     Green space is not something you may immediately associate with Hong Kong. Greenbacks, maybe. But some 40 per cent of our total land area is made up of country parks and nature reserves. And Hong Kong's 260-plus outlying islands are full of parks, hills and hiking trails. Indeed, you can get away from the concrete jungle in the downtown area, and find yourself on a tranquil trail in the countryside in less than 30 minutes.

     If you are a nature lover, you cannot afford to miss these parts of Hong Kong, which, I am told, is home to 3 100 species of plants, 500 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 80 species of reptiles, 230 species of butterflies, 120 species of dragonflies, and a good many other creepers and crawlers. And all these natural wonders alive and thriving in the world's skyscraper city. So what a surprise! Actually, many bird-watchers from around the world hold onto this discovery to themselves as one of the world's best kept secrets.

     And when you return, longing for sustenance and city life, you do not have to look far. Hong Kong counts more than 16 000 restaurants. That is almost one restaurant for every 500 Hong Kong denizens, young and old. Let me add that Hong Kong is among the world's top-10 cities with the most Michelin stars, featuring a few top notched Italian restaurants. Home, as well, to the least expensive one-star restaurants in the world.

     Which reminds me, dinner is indeed on the way. And I promise that I won't keep you much longer.

     Hong Kong also boasts two world-class theme parks - Ocean Park and Disneyland. Both made for family fun. Ocean Park, by the way, won the most recent Applause Award. Judged by international theme park and amusement-industry professionals, the biannual award is the global attraction industry's major recognition of excellence. Hong Kong Disneyland, which integrates timeless Chinese culture and traditions and the boundless imagination of Disney, has become the must see destination for families as well as Disney fans worldwide.

     Major expansion plans are in the works for both of them - from new hotels to a world-class outdoor water park as well as an Iron Man experience. For the Iron Man experience, you will be pleased to note that this Marvel Super Hero will save Hong Kong from alien invaders. Perhaps, we should have organised an encounter between him and the Transformers who ripped apart my office in the last movie.

     Both the champion and the first runner-up of "Best Convention and Exhibition Centre" in Asia presented by the renowned CEI Asia Industry Awards go to Hong Kong venues, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, where the next wine and spirits fair will be held next week, and the AsiaWorld-Expo on the Airport Island. Next time when you attend a professional conference or a trade show in Hong Kong, please do reserve a day or two more, and experience the leisure and pleasure of Hong Kong.

     Ladies and gentlemen, Hong Kong is all about business. About creating opportunities, about building connections and planning for a rewarding future. I am confident that Italy, and Italian businesses, will see good reasons to continue working with us - in Hong Kong.

     But Hong Kong is more than business. Even if you have yet to have the chance to do business with us, you are still most welcome to spend several carefree days with us, simply, as I said earlier, simply for leisure and pleasure. You can expect that our hospitality as well as our diversity will certainly exceed your expectation.

     Meanwhile, please enjoy this special evening.

     Thank you so much.

Ends/Thursday, October 30, 2014
Issued at HKT 06:32


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