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LCQ14: Promoting exchanges between Hong Kong and Middle East region
     Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Lam and a written reply by the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mr Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council today (April 19):
     The Middle East region is a key link in the country's Belt and Road Initiative. There are views that Hong Kong should actively develop the Middle East market to attract more tourists to come to Hong Kong, thereby promoting people-to-people connectivity. Regarding the promotion of exchanges between Hong Kong and the Middle East region, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the Government has promoted Hong Kong's Muslim tourism in the Middle East region, so as to attract tourists from the region to come to Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether the Government has drawn up policy initiatives to promote exchanges in culture and arts, education and personnel between Hong Kong and the Middle East region, with a view to enabling Hong Kong people to better understand Islamic culture and attracting more people from the Middle East region to come to Hong Kong; if so, of the details and timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) as it is learnt that people in the Middle East region predominantly abide by Sharia principles and the products they consume and use in their daily lives must be Halal-certified, whether the Government has monitored the organisations providing Halal certification services in Hong Kong and ensured that the products certified by them have met the requirements of the Islamic code, and whether it will assist enterprises in developing other Halal-certified services, such as Halal logistics?
     In respect of the question raised by the Hon Andrew Lam, having consulted the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, the Education Bureau, the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau and the Customs and Excise Department, the consolidated reply is as follows:

(1) The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) has been promoting Hong Kong Muslim tourism in the Middle East region, including co-operating with the travel trade to launch promotions and offers, and setting up a Representative Office in Dubai. The HKTB has also collated a series of information for Muslim visitors on its DiscoverHongKong.com website, including gourmet food, hotel accommodation, local culture, activities suitable for Muslim visitors, etc. in Hong Kong, to attract them to visit Hong Kong and enhance their experience in Hong Kong.
     The Airport Authority Hong Kong and airlines will distribute free air tickets in the Middle East region later this year and the HKTB, in tandem, is planning to launch promotional activities, such as co-operating with key opinion leaders to introduce Hong Kong's tourism characteristics, organising briefing sessions in the Middle East and arranging familiarisation tours for key trade partners to experience in person Hong Kong's tourism appeal, thereby enticing Muslim visitors to visit Hong Kong. The HKTB will work with travel trade which are serving high-end visitors to promote Hong Kong as a tourist destination among their Muslim high-end clients.
(2) People-to-people bond is one of the "five areas of connectivity" under the Belt and Road Initiative. The Government has been committed to strengthening exchanges and co-operation with overseas counterparts (including Middle East region), with a view to enhancing the people-to-people bond. The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (ETO) in Dubai came into operation in October 2021. This is the first ETO in the area. Its opening is conducive to strengthening the ties between Hong Kong and our trading partners in the region.
     The Government also enhances cultural exchange and co-operation with Middle East region, and promotes Chinese culture and Hong Kong's arts and cultural achievements. The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau sets aside dedicated funding each year for overseas ETOs to support arts groups/artists from Hong Kong to stage arts and cultural activities outside Hong Kong. Since its first launch in 2003, the Asia Cultural Co-operation Forum (ACCF) enables participating cultural ministers and senior officials of Asian countries to exchange ideas and share their experience, thereby deepening cultural co-operation. The 12th edition of the ACCF held in December 2022 has accomplished a remarkable achievement with the largest number of participating countries (21) and overseas delegations (14) since the launching of the ACCF. The ACCF has facilitated Hong Kong in unleashing our role as an East-meets-West centre for international cultural exchange, making Hong Kong a cultural hub connecting our country with the world. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) also staged the 3rd Museum Summit in March 2023, bringing together 35 speakers and moderators from renowned museums and cultural institutions in the Mainland and 15 other countries to share valuable professional experiences, research findings, and innovative ideas. It has achieved a record-breaking enrolment figure of about 2 000 participants and attracted about 12 million views of live broadcast. Representatives from Middle East region (including Iran and Saudi Arabia) participated in the 12th ACCF 2022 and the 3rd Museum Summit.
     The LCSD also organises the "Asian Ethnic Cultural Performances" annually to showcase the cultural essence of various places in Asia, with the participation of Consulates-General of various countries in Hong Kong, including Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates of Middle East. This not only promotes the cultural essence of various places, but also strengthens the integration of residents of different nationalities. Meanwhile, the LCSD invites various arts groups/artists from overseas to perform in Hong Kong from time to time, with a view to fostering exchange and co-operation between local and overseas artists. These include arts groups/artists from Iran and Israel of Middle East. Separately, the two museums and the performing arts division of West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) have been exchanging on and exploring co-operation opportunities in the area of arts and culture with cultural and museum institutions in various places, such as Qatar, Türkiye, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. For example, artists from Israel participated in "Freespace Jazz Fest", an annual major event in WKCD. The Chairperson of Qatar Museums, Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, visited M+ and Hong Kong Palace Museum in March this year and met with the senior management of WKCD Authority. WKCD will continue to expand its collaboration with the Mainland and other places, including Middle East region, contributing to the development of Hong Kong into an East-meets-West centre for international cultural exchange.
     The 2022 Policy Address has put forth new initiatives to promote Hong Kong's pop culture in Asia. For example, with a view to taking Hong Kong films to go global, we have launched the Hong Kong-Asian Film Collaboration Funding Scheme under the Film Development Fund in February 2023 to subsidise film projects co-produced by filmmakers between Hong Kong and various places in Asia that are rich in Hong Kong and Asian cultures (including Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, etc). The Government has all along, through the Film Development Fund, been supporting activities that promote Hong Kong's film industry in various places (including Middle East region).
     In tandem with our country's Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative, the Education Bureau (EDB) has all along attached importance to education about Islamic Civilisation. With regard to curriculum development, the Revised Junior Secondary History Curriculum has added the new topic of "The Rise of Islamic Civilisation and cultural interactions between Europe and Asia in medieval times" since its implementation in the 2020/21 school year, enabling junior secondary students to learn the history of Islamic Civilisation, and its achievements in the fields of culture, art, etc. In addition, the EDB has also continuously engaged experts and academics from tertiary institutions, and local Islamic organisations and collaborated with them to promote education about Islamic Civilisation, including organising diversified teacher professional development programmes and developing learning and teaching resources, thereby deepening teachers' understanding of Islamic Civilisation, and enhancing their professional competence in teaching relevant topics.

     To strengthen education collaboration with B&R countries/regions, the Government has introduced the Belt and Road Scholarship (the Scholarship) since the 2016/17 academic year to support students from B&R countries/regions, including those from the Middle East, to pursue post-secondary programmes in Hong Kong. The Scholarship currently offers 100 places per annum, covering students from all countries/regions along the B&R and pursuing publicly-funded full-time undergraduate and research postgraduate programmes in Hong Kong.
     The Government also subsidises post-secondary students to participate in short-term internship or learning experience in B&R regions, including the Middle East, through the Scheme for Subsidy on Exchange to Belt and Road Regions for Post-secondary Students, with a view to encouraging students to seize new opportunities brought about by B&R Initiative while facilitating educational and cultural exchanges between Hong Kong and B&R regions.

     In respect of youth exchange, the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau and the Youth Development Commission have launched the Funding Scheme for International Youth Exchange to provide funding for non-governmental organisations to organise international exchange projects (including the Middle East region) for Hong Kong's youths. It aims to help young people broaden their exposure, enhance their understanding of different cultures (including the Islamic culture), and foster exchange with people in different places. In the past, there was a subsidised youth exchange project covering Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
(3) Pursuant to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO), Chapter 362, any person who, in the course of any trade or business, applies a false trade description to any goods; or supplies or offers to supply any goods to which a false trade description is applied, commits an offence. Under the TDO, "trade description", in relation to goods, means an indication, direct or indirect, and by whatever means given, with respect to the goods or any part of the goods including an indication of the compliance with a standard specified or recognized by any person (e.g. Halal Certification, etc). For false trade description, it means a trade description which is false or misleading to a material degree. While handling suspected case of contravening the TDO, Hong Kong Customs would take into account the actual circumstances and relevant evidence of the case to determine whether an offence under the TDO has been committed.
Ends/Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:30
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