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Interview with Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea Dr. Jonathan Choi

One-on-One With Dr. Jonathan Choi
As an Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea, Dr. Jonathan Choi aims to deepen what he calls a regional relationship between Korea and Hong Kong

Dr. Jonathan Choi, Chairman of Hong Kong’s Sunwah Group, was appointed an Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea in May. He has contributed to enhancing business relationships between Korea and Hong Kong, especially in the agricultural, tourism and cultural sectors. We talked with Dr. Choi, one of Korea’s nine such Honorary Ambassadors, about his goals in the position, Hong Kong-Korea relations and what young people today need to succeed.

- Why were you interested in becoming an Honorary Ambassador of Foreign Investment Promotion for Korea?

"When the Consul General asked me to be an Honorary Ambassador, I actually didn't know there was such a post. But I thought it was a good idea. Hong Kong is an important place ­ an international trade and investment hub for all of Asia and even the world. So as a Hong Kong business leader, I felt I could do a lot in terms of promotion for business and investment matching or cooperation between Hong Kong, Korea and Mainland China. "

- What are your goals as an Honorary Ambassador?

"I feel I could do more than promotion because investment goes two ways: to Korea and from Korea. The same goes for trade. Also, I believe three main things are important for the economy ­ investment, trading products and the service industry. Therefore, I feel we can promote all three at the same time.
With the Korea-China free trade agreement (FTA) and the convenience of cross-border ecommerce, you can send products directly from Korea to China. I feel that Mainland China and Korea can be very close to each other, and that in between, Hong Kong can play a part. Interestingly, in Shenyang, China, some of my staff speak Korean. I could introduce business to Korean delegations with my Korean-speaking staff. "

- How would you assess recent economic relations between Hong Kong and Korea?

"Korea is a large trading country that has really promoted business with Hong Kong. I have also felt the Korean Wave coming for the past five to ten years. Friends tell me Hong Kong’s young people were all about J-Pop 10 years ago, but that the “J” has changed to “K.”
Koreans are very creative. They are using traditional culture and matching it with innovation. This became a business model. Another thing is, Korea is strong in IT, and the technology is mixed with the culture industry. It has become a new business model for Korea. The culture-technology mix has boosted other industries as well. This business model is envied by many countries, even Hong Kong and China. Korea is not a big country, you don't have many resources, but you were able to become a star through being innovative.
Hong Kong can work well with Korea because Hong Kong is a small city and we have strong small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME). Our people are innovative in film and entertainment, but now we have to work with Korea.
Also, I hope Korea would not consider Hong Kong just a city, but that you would take a bilateral view and see Hong Kong as a trade and investment hub. I feel that we have built a multinational, multilateral relationship."

- How do you think the Korea-China FTA will enhance Korea-Hong Kong business?

"I think Korea was being smart because the relationship between China and Japan is not very good. Korea seized a good opportunity and advantage and signed the FTA. There will be plenty of trading and investment opportunities. Since Hong Kong is a part of China, Hong Kong will also enjoy some benefits from it."

- In what sectors of Korea are Hong Kong investors most interested?

"At the moment, mostly in your K-pop and culture business. We are learning how we could have companies like SM and CJ Entertainment in Hong Kong. Second, IT. Korea is the leader of smartphones. Third, Hong Kong people want to be as beautiful as Korean stars. Therefore, cosmetics. So many SMEs want to buy Korean cosmetics. My wife also buys Korean cosmetics. And I shouldn’t say this, but it’s a fact that plastic surgery is also a huge business. Also, the food. I know some Hong Kong companies have already invested in Busan, Jeju, Seoul and in different industries. There are so many opportunities, and many Hong Kong companies would like to work with Korea."

- What sort of support do Hong Kong investors most want from Korea?

"The language is the most important, especially English and Chinese. This is what I always tell KOTRA. My suggestion is, if you want to go international, then use two languages for your products: Chinese and English. "

- What are some of the social causes most important to you?

"I’ve been in Hong Kong all my life, so I want to look good for Hong Kong, my hometown. I value it as a business city. Don't talk too much about the politics. Hong Kong is only a city, not a country. As citizens of a city, we work on how to promote the best interests of our city to be business, the economy.
Secondly, our strength is internationalization. We are an international city. Therefore we need to work well with countries all over the world so that our business expertise, capital and connections can help not only Hong Kong, but also mainland China to go global and for the world to enter China. We’re a super connector, and with capital, expertise and business know-how, we’re also a co-investor and business operator."

- You became the head of Sunwah Group at age 25. How did you do it?

"I just worked hard. I got up at 4:30 a.m., went to the fish market at 5 a.m. s worked until night. I took time off only on the Chinese New Year. I did this for 10 years.
Secondly, I learned a lot from my work. In business school, you learn only theory. Of course, I also had to understand world trends. Back then, China was starting to open up, so I was trained during China’s modernization and reform. "

- What advice would you give young entrepreneurs?

"Young people today, their IQ is excellent, but you also need a high EQ, good communication skills and a high AQ, or adversity quotient. Financial crises and earthquakes happen. How can you survive? The way Korea did in 1997, when the financial crisis came. I really respect what Koreans did. They donated gold necklaces for their country. That is the Korean spirit. That is why Korea could go strong."

By Chang Young(
Executive Consultant / Invest Korea

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