Since he arrived one year ago, Ian Burchett has reversed the traditional role of a newcomer. Where one would expect a stranger in a strange land to be the one who is welcomed, it is he who is playing the host, day in and day out,in Hong Kong.
“I’m a dive in kind of guy!”
Diplomat sat down with Ian Burchett, Canada’s Consul General to Hong Kong and Macao exactly one year, to the day, after his plane touched down in Hong Kong. He headed straight to a welcoming dinner with the senior leadership of The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, jetlag be dammed. That high-octane approach has characterised his supercharged 365 days in Hong Kong.
Since then, he has done the welcoming. He has, in his first year welcomed an avalanche of officials from his national HQ, Ottawa. As one Consul General put it – “And Ian? He’s been so busy with all his visits!”
In between networking into the community of over 295,000 plus Canadians in Hong Kong, he has welcomed every one of the chart toppers in The Hill Times list of the 100 Most Influential People in Politics and Government (in Canada).
The Canadian Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, came in November to speak, for the first time ever outside Canada, at a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Canadian War Cemetery at Sai Wan Ho. The #1 (the PM) was followed by #2 on the list, Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty and #3 – the Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird. Other influential Ministers visited in between.
“Minister Baird, our Minister of Foreign Affairs was the first foreign minister to meet with CY Leung just shortly after he was sworn in on July 1 of 2012.” He liked Hong Kong so much he was back in March.
“We’ve had 10 federal ministers in my first year here.”
Diplomats in Hong Kong will no doubt have an appreciation for how much work goes into one official visit in terms of setting up meetings, protocol, security, media management and host of other details for just one official visit. Imagine the effort behind 10 in one year. And more.
In addition, the CG had to stage manage visits from 8 provincial premiers (sub-national leaders of jurisdictions with populations up to 13.5M) and countless business, academic and other political missions.
The office in Hong Kong has the heft to manage this though – ‘a tremendous team’ – as CG Burchett tells it. With over 117 local staff plus 22 Canadians in various departments (including the legendary Royal Canadian Mounted Police and, interestingly, the Border Services Agency), they occupy four floors of Exchange Square in Central.
In addition to the relentless promotion of Canadian trade and promotion interests, the CG has other priorities arising from his strategic plan – and important achievements have happened on his watch.
Canada and Hong Kong recently concluded the terms of a Double Taxation Agreement, one of 28 countries that have such treaties for Hong Kong. Its status? “To be ratified and put in place by January 1 2014 – we hope,” according to Mr. Burchett. In fact, it was ratified in LegCo on Wednesday of this week, along with DTAs with Austria and Jersey.
Interestingly, The United States, Canada’s free trade partner under NAFTA, is not even in negotiations for such an agreement. This may be behind the CG’s thinking when he claims it could be used for “companies in both jurisdictions to attract enterprises and investments from other jurisdictions to pull that capital through Hong Kong into Canada and elsewhere into North America.” A DTA agreement could prove attractive to those that want access to the US market, but get the benefits of the DTA.
But it isn’t all about trade and investment. The CG is keenly interested in the political dimension in Hong Kong. He’s tracking the development of Hong Kong under ‘one country-two systems’, democracy, the application of Basic Law and rule of law.
“The openness and transparency that Hong Kong benefits from under Basic Law is something that’s important for Canada’s values and for Canadian business.”
The flurry of visits hasn’t seemed to slow him down from welcoming a huge range of visitors to the official residence on Jardine’s Lookout. From the recent launch of the new Z10 BlackBerry to hosting Canada’s national rugby team for the Sevens, the rugby enthusiast has opened the doors to his community. The move has proved hugely popular.
“Hong Kong is Canada’s city in Asia and our home should be Canada’s home in Hong Kong.”
Likewise, he is hugely grateful for the warm welcome he received from the rest of the diplomatic core. Mr. Burchett waxes eloquent about how much he has learned from his colleagues here with seniority to him. His first meeting was with the Dean of the Diplomatic core, The Consul General of Kuwait, Mr. Bader S. Al-Tunaib, quickly follow by the UK, New Zealand, Japan and USA Consul Generals.
Mission…Diverted – Surviving September 11
Given his one year tenure, not much has happened to get Mr. Burchett off his game plan in Hong Kong. Previous postings haven’t been such smooth sailing. He was posted in New York City, promoting trade and inbound investment, from 1997-200
“We were in Times Square, about 8-11km from Ground Zero.”
September 11 is one of those days in history everyone remembers where they were. Ian Burchett was in New York City. In his words:
“Our American friends, our partners, our allies, our neighbours were deeply affected by this terrible tragedy.”
“The world changed on September 11 and New York , as a city, changed… I changed. The way I approach situations and the management of crises or consular emergencies. But I learned a lot personally…”
“I hope the world or I never have to go through that again. From that experience, we grow and we become stronger. New Yorkers certainly became stronger that day.
America was under attack and Canada was there to provide the best possible support and assistance to them and we will always be there for our friends and allies in those situations.”
The CG has discovered a love for Hong Kong’s hills and hiking trails and loves to share them with visitors. He became solemn when he talked about sharing the beauty, solemnity and history by taking hikes with guests to pillboxes and at the Sai Wan Ho Cemetery where his countrymen are buried after losing their lives in battle and prisoner-of-war camps during WWII. These walkabouts are Immediately followed by Cantonese style meals with great Canadian produce in local restaurants, of course.
Fortunately, most of his hosting is less sombre and rather more joyous. Diplomat did manage to extract a hospitality related promise from the CG you can find out about in the audio file of the full interview at www.harbourtimes.com/diplomat He knows how to throw a great party and it is all about connecting old friends and new friends – and the sharing: “Canadian wine, Canadian beer, Canadian food!”
What message did he want to finish off with for the diplomatic communities?
“I’m incredibly grateful for the wisdom and knowledge they have generously shared with me in my first year here. I’ve learned a lot from each of them.”
“I hope I can do the same for their colleagues and my colleagues that join me in the future!
“We’re all working together to build bridges.”
In that, Canada has a master architect for bridge building for CG Ian Burchett.
The Consul General Ian Burchett
Former Postings: New York City, Wahsington DC, Beijing. Monterrey. Kingston (Jamaica).
Other duties: Trade relations with Korea, China and Taiwan and Middle East (not concurrently) from Ottawa.
Education and Background: A ‘proud Western Canadian’ from Vancouver Island, educated at Queen’s University (BA, Hons) and Carleton University (MPA).
The Canadian Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macao
How many Canadians?
The low end of estimates is 295,000, based on a household survey conducted by Hong Kong Baptist University.
How big is the Consul General in Hong Kong?
Four full floors in Exchange Square 1.
117 Full Time Local Staff.
22 Canadians from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and 4 other departments:
- Citizenship and Immigration
- Canadian Border Services Agency
- Trade Commissioners for Officers for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Diplomat asked: No military personnel are stationed in Hong Kong.
Social Media Presence – Heavy – Daily updates on Facebook, including supporting fellow Consulates in Hong Kong. Supports community activities and Canadian business as well as advising Canadians abroad. Lots of pictures.
The office in Hong Kong is the world’s biggest issuer of Canadian passports, processing over 23,500 last year.
Hong Kong is Canada’s 11th most important market for services and 7th most important for services.
Hong Kong as a source of foreign students – Hong Kong students are ranked #10. Mainland Chinese #1 in Canada.