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Setting the tone for American journalism with Joe Kahn, Executive Editor of The New York Times

As American society becomes more polarised over events such as the Israel-Hamas conflict and the 2024 US presidential election, Executive Editor Joe Kahn aims to continue producing well-rounded and fair journalism at The New York Times.

Kahn’s journalism career has spanned almost four decades now, with his most recent assignment being to guide and oversee all aspects of the Times’ global newsroom since 2022.

At an FCC fireside chat with President Lee Williamson, Kahn spoke about his humble beginnings as a local news reporter in Texas to becoming a China correspondent and eventually leading the Times — ultimately sharing how his career has shaped his philosophy on how the Times should handle the challenges that modern journalism faces.

A two-time Pulitzer winner, he embarked on his journalism journey at The Dallas Morning News in 1987 and subsequently took on the role of a China correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, a move that his career benefitted from in the long run despite not being apparent at the time.

“That was the bet that I made, and that was a pretty good bet. I wish I had some sort of monetary way of betting on China at that time, but for me, it paid off journalistically,” he said.

Joe Kahn. Photo: FCC

Kahn joined the Times in 1998 and has held positions in New York, Washington, and China. He has led the Times’ coverage of some of the world’s most complex events — wars in the Middle East, terrorism attacks and political turmoil in Europe, and much more.

Kahn’s tenure as a Managing Editor from 2016-2022 culminated in his appointment as Executive Editor two years ago. He described his current role as both executive and strategic, yet still highly focused on content.

“The word ‘Executive’ in the title is actually somewhat misleading. The tradition at The Times has always been for its top news editor to remain involved in daily content creation. The core product is the news that we’re covering, and its relevance, competitiveness and urgency are my main responsibility,” he said.

The importance of the 24-hour news cycle has altered the nature of day-to-day operations, and for Kahn, this means his day begins much earlier than it would have done in the print-only era.

“In those days, as an editor, you’d be heavily involved in presiding over the process of deciding which of the many stories we were covering would make the front page, and that process would load later in the day as journalists began completing their stories. It’s now very different and my day is very front-loaded, as we need to stay competitive, relevant and urgent,” he explained.

President Williamson touched upon the numerous global challenges currently facing newsrooms — continued economic headwinds, the war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict, and fraying US-China and bilateral relations. Kahn acknowledged the finite resources available and the critical decision-making process that the Times endures when choosing what to cover.

“Even for a newsroom as well-equipped as The New York Times, we have daily, weekly, and monthly debates about what our top priorities are internationally, and we try to put resources behind all of the big issues. Most of them we will continue to invest in and produce a high level of coverage, even if we’re not getting direct feedback from readers.”

When asked about what he has learned after two years into the role, Kahn noted the sensitivity surrounding the subject of Israel, especially in the US.

“I guess I’ve never witnessed a global issue that has divided Americans as much as this particular one has. The tensions are evident even with our own staff. It’s just an incredibly divisive conflict and the ethnic issues around it are extremely polarising,” he said.

Joe Kahn and Lee Williamson. Photo: FCC

Kahn then elaborated on why the Times is hesitant to officially refer to the Israel-Hamas conflict as a “genocide”, unlike other news organisations and political figures/groups that have adopted the term.

“We don’t embrace that term. We can quote people as saying it, but we don’t, in our own words, label something. ‘Genocide’ is a legal term that has to be judged by international courts and even in the event that a particular situation is perceived to equate to that word, we wouldn’t necessarily use it ourselves,” he clarified.

Kahn cited former President Trump’s “misstatements” being officially described as “lies” in the Times’ reporting to demonstrate the necessary justifications in using such a term.

“That’s also a very high bar,” he began. “We use that term only in certain circumstances where he continuously repeated a known falsehood, like his allegation that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. I think setting a high bar is the essence of the standards process.”

Commenting on the state of polarisation in the US, Kahn also said that despite such massive divides in American society, the Times has still developed a devout readership. 

“There is a curious center among readers who are still hungry for good quality, well-rounded, fair journalism on the issues that they care about. I think that’s why we’ve been able to continue to grow our readership and our subscriber base even during a time when people are seen as moving into these unbridgeable camps of public opinion.”

President Williamson also asked Kahn about his observations of a changing Hong Kong, and what he had surmised during his recent meetings with people across the spectrum of Hong Kong society.

“I’m somewhat encouraged by the tone of the discussions that we have had with some close China watchers who are trying to understand what’s happening across the border, and I think the essence of Hong Kong is still very much present,” he said.

With the increased risks and uncertainties for both local and international journalists operating in the region, Kahn acknowledged the challenges faced by media outlets, citing legal advice that has prompted the Times to reduce its presence and relocate some staff to Seoul.

Despite these challenges, the Times’ international print edition remains in Hong Kong, which consists of a small but dedicated number of journalists who continue to report on critical issues both within Hong Kong and across the border in Mainland China.

“The safety and protection of my journalists is my number one responsibility and we would throw all of our resources into a security issue, a safety issue, or a legal issue for any member of our staff who encounters difficulties of that kind… The types of issues that we’re facing here tend to be more long-term legal and bureaucratic and less about physical safety, but it is something we watch very closely,” he concluded.

The reporting for this article was a collaboration between Hugo Novales, the FCC’s in-house journalist, and Ann Tsang, Editor of FCC magazine The Correspondent. The print edition of this piece can be found in The Correspondent’s July 2024 issue. The full discussion can be watched on our YouTube channel:

The rise and fall of Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese-American star

Long before Bruce Lee, Michelle Yeoh, Jackie Chan, and other Hollywood stars brought attention to underrepresented Asians and Asian Americans, there was Anna May Wong.

Born on January 3rd, 1905 — Year of the Dragon — in a Chinese laundromat her father owned in Los Angeles, Wong’s life story falls into what author Yunte Huang describes as the “Epic Journey of Asian Americans,” one of many such lives he has chronicled throughout his writing career.

In his previous two books, he wrote about Charlie Chan and the conjoined Bunker twins “Chang and Eng”, and now has completed this trilogy of prolific Asian Americans and their “rendezvous with American history” with his newly-published biography of Anna May Wong – Daughter of the Dragon (2023).

Speaking at an FCC Club Lunch alongside NY Times reporter Tiffany May, Huang first admitted that he didn’t initially plan to write a trilogy.

“Of course I didn’t know that. Like many things in life, they came by accident, by chance,” he said.

He became intrigued by Anna May Wong and her career, which first began with her “toehold” opportunity as an extra in silent film The Red Lantern (1919) and then her “foothold” opportunity with The Toll of the Sea (1922), which thus paved the way for her to become the first-ever Chinese-American movie star.

She subsequently starred in several more Hollywood silent films but after becoming unsatisfied with being typecast in stereotypical Chinese roles, she left the US for Europe in 1928. From there she starred in more plays and silent films until the development of sound films. Daughter of the Dragon (1931) — where Huang got his book title — and Shanghai Express (1932) were two of her most notable films from the new sound era.

While her acting skills and Chinese representation were primary contributors to Huang’s desire to write a biography about Wong, her status as a fashion icon also garnered his interest.

“One thing I admire about Anna May Wong is that she is not just a beautiful, talented film star. She has the unique ability to turn working class symbols such as [the] coolie hat and [the] coolie jacket into high-class fashion, and that’s really part of her charm,” he said.

Yunte Huang and Tiffany May. Photo: FCC

The “coolie” hat and jacket that Huang referred to are the conical hat and overcoat that were common attire for East Asian migrant workers during the 19th and 20th century. These pieces of  clothing were originally associated with hard manual labour, yet Wong attempted to change public perception of these items by wearing stylised versions of them in her films and public life.

Despite a successful start to her career, Wong was ultimately snubbed from the lead role in The Good Earth (1937), based on Pearl S. Bucks’ bestselling novel, due to Hollywood rules that prohibited white actors from kissing non-white actors.

“The kiss is the soul of 20th century love in film,” Huang said when explaining the societal norms of Wong’s generation that negatively impacted her career.

Examining not just a person’s life, but also the world they lived in, is key to Huang’s strategy in writing biographies. In the case of Anna May Wong, he knew that many other historians and journalists have already documented her life, but by looking at the bigger picture, Huang can differentiate his work from everyone else’s.

“Of course this story has been told before, but my take is really to look at the large canvas out of which she came,” he said.

As her career slowly dwindled, Wong spent most of her final days drinking and smoking in the aptly-named Dragon’s Den, a bar in Los Angeles’ old Chinatown. She died of a sudden heart attack on February 3rd, 1961. She was 56 years old.

A year before she died, Hollywood honoured her with a star of the Walk of Fame, making her the first Asian-American to receive such a distinction. In 2022, the US Mint also released commemorative 25¢ quarters with Wong’s face and name on the tail side of the coin. 

When the coins came out, Huang made sure he ordered a batch for himself. Despite the coins being released over 60 years after her death, Huang didn’t feel that the coins were “too little, too late” in recognising Wong’s contributions to American society.

“To speak in a Happy Valley term, I always knew she was on the money,” Huang concluded.

Learn more about Anna May Wong’s life and Yunte Huang’s discoveries by watching the full discussion on our YouTube channel:

An in-depth conversation with Sara Jane Ho, the international etiquette expert who broke up with a boyfriend via text

When it comes to proper table manners and social cues, there are endless questions that one could get lost in — Which fork should I use? How long should I maintain eye contact? When should I end a conversation? What should I do if I forget someone’s name?

For Sara Jane Ho, internationally-renowned etiquette expert and host of the Daytime Emmy-nominated Netflix series Mind Your Manners (2022), answering these questions has become her life’s mission.

Speaking with President Lee Williamson at an FCC dinnertime talk to promote her new book Mind Your Manners: An Insider’s Guide to Social Fluency (2024), Sara Jane first clarified what is and is not etiquette. In her eyes, it most certainly has nothing to do with whichever fork someone uses.

“For me, etiquette is really about making other people around you feel at ease, which is what makes you feel comfortable with them. That goes back to what makes us human beings: a sense of belonging and inclusion,” she explained.

Sara Jane Ho. Photo: FCC

Sara Jane’s awareness of social norms and our human desire to connect with one another started in childhood. Her mother, a typical Hong Kong “Tiger Mom,” often held lively gatherings for family and friends and set the example for what a good host should be — and made sure young Sara Jane refilled everyone’s teacup.

From her father, she received more straightforward advice: “The world is your playground. Go explore.”

“My parents really encouraged me to follow my passions and that as long as you have a passion and you work very hard, you can pretty much achieve whatever you want,” she said.

Sara Jane went on to study English Literature at Georgetown University despite her family’s perception that her English-speaking skills were already good enough. But during the final year of her studies, her mother passed away from cancer and the spirit of regularly hosting guests at their home had gone with her.

“Holidays were particularly painful because it was a stark reminder of what I had lost,” she recalled.

Sara Jane Ho. Photo: FCC

After graduating from Harvard Business School in 2012, she decided to combine her goal of passing on her mother’s legacy with a unique market need in mainland China: social skills for a society that has modernized rapidly since the economic reforms of 1978 without the knowledge to navigate through their new, prosperous world.

Sara Jane moved to Beijing in 2013 and shortly thereafter opened up China’s first-ever finishing school, Institute Sarita. The school focused on teaching not younger, but older women the basics of everyday etiquette.

So how should people carry themselves at work, with family and friends, in romantic relationships, or the various other “microcultures” that Sara Jane dives into throughout her new book? The first step is observation — looking around at what people in these different environments say and do, what they wear, and then slowly adapting oneself to cultivate the “feeling of belonging” she described early on in the talk.

When it comes to making and breaking conversation, Sara Jane also offered some practical tips. Introducing another person to a rather dull speaker serves as a handy way of excusing oneself from the conversation, while asking open-ended questions about a person’s life easily shows someone that you’re interested in them — even if you actually might not be.  

“I like to see each person as a flower bulb and through conversation, you let them blossom,” she said, and added later that, “When you show interest in somebody, they will think that you like them and when they think you like them, they will like you back.”

Smiling and a sense of humor are also two of Sara Jane’s secret weapons to defusing potentially awkward situations.

“I don’t like to take things too seriously. I always feel like you learn the most when you’re having fun,” she said when describing a dirty joke that astonishingly made its way onto the very first episode of her Netflix series.

The joke, while risky, was instantly defused by a smile she flashed seconds later, a subtle acknowledgment to her audience that she wants them to have fun with her as well.

Sara Jane then admitted that she uses her signature smile — often coupled with her self-described “superpower” of raising either one of her eyebrows individually — in any situation where she doesn’t know how to immediately respond. Some of these situations include not understanding what someone has said or, quite conversely, being utterly shocked by what someone has said.

“I call [smiling] the Swiss Army Knife of responses — people can interpret it in any way they want,” she summarized.

Sara Jane also elaborated on the article by The New York Times that highlighted her text message breakup. To the surprise of Lee Williamson and the rest of the attendees, she revealed that the aforementioned ex-boyfriend is an FCC member!

Sara Jane Ho and Lee Williamson. Photo: FCC

“It’s a shame he didn’t sign up [for] tonight!” she exclaimed.

While beginning filming for her Netflix series, Sara Jane found herself at odds with a career that brought her joy and a relationship that did not. She decided that a text would be the quickest and easiest way to move on with her life, but uses this experience to also highlight the fact that despite being an etiquette expert, she’s still not perfect.

Hosting her talk at the FCC didn’t faze her either. Sara Jane actually welcomed the idea of potentially running into her ex and explained that she would still be quite cordial and interested to see what he had been up to since their breakup.

“Honestly, I would treat him as though he were a long-lost cousin because that’s how I feel about him — he’s like some distant relative. I’d actually be very happy to see him, and I’d say, ‘I’m so happy to see you. How are you? I hope you’re well.’”

Learn more about Sara Jane’s life and her social fluency tips by watching the full discussion on the FCC’s YouTube channel:

Are Hong Kong’s new plans enough to revive the city’s struggling capital markets? An FCC panel of experts shares their opinions

Hong Kong, despite its well-established reputation as a global finance center, fell on the Hang Seng Index for the fourth year in a row in 2023, and also fell just behind its regional competitor Singapore in the 2023 Global Financial Centres Index.

In parallel, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange dropped to tenth place in global IPO rankings in the first quarter of 2024. Some financial experts remain optimistic, while others doubt that new capital markets and investments will be enough to improve the city’s financial future.

To discuss potential solutions to the city’s market issues, the FCC held a panel discussion in early June with Dr. Renu Bhatia, Arnold Ip, Stacey Wong, and Professional Committee Member Richard Winter.

Winter, Senior Advisor of Quam Plus International Finance Limited, opened the discussion by sharing a few positive facts about Hong Kong’s economy.

“We’re very fortunate to be part of China,” he began. “China’s got a growth rate of 5%, which is one of the tops amongst major economies. Hong Kong itself last year grew by 3.3% and this year it’ll be between 2.5-3.5%.”

Richard Winter. Photo: FCC

These statistics have also been widely shared by the Hong Kong government as a testament to the perseverance of the local and mainland economies.

Winter continued, adding that Hong Kong is in a prime location within China’s Greater Bay Area (GBA) with a GDP of 14 trillion RMB — making the region economically equivalent to Italy and Canada.

The GBA also includes Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Huizhou, Zhaoqing, and Macau — Hong Kong’s neighboring SAR.

Stacey Wong, COO of Quam Plus, also shared an overview of Hong Kong’s financial status, albeit from a critical standpoint. He pointed out the decline in daily turnover from HK$166 billion in 2021 to HK$105 billion in 2023, as well as Hong Kong’s 18% drop in the 2023 Hang Seng Index. Other competitive markets, he mentioned, all increased over the same time period.

Stacey Wong. Photo: FCC

Despite these disturbing facts, Wong said that the government’s new measures that were announced in the first quarter of 2024 gave “some hope” to the industry, primarily the April 18th announcement that the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will increase their ties with mainland China’s economy.

Just the next day after this announcement, Hong Kong rebounded by 16,400 points on the Hang Seng Index.

“We are seeing more hope, we are seeing the brighter side of things, but we are still way off our heyday. It’s not enough,” Wong summarized.

On the note of Hong Kong’s “heyday,” Arnold Ip countered the idea of looking backwards, noting that what the city used to do might not be the best solution anymore.

“The market keeps changing,” Ip reminded the panel. “First of all, we have got to recognize that things will keep changing. What we were doing in Hong Kong’s heyday won’t be what we will be doing in 5 years time or 10 years time. It will be very different.”

Arnold Ip. Photo: FCC

The fact that more attention has been brought to Hong Kong’s capital market is what Ip finds to be another positive aspect to this situation.

“Everyone is getting together to talk about this subject. This is encouraging,” he added.

The panel also discussed the initial requirements for companies, particularly “pre-revenue” biotech companies that need government and private funding and wish to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

As research and development companies, the panelists — especially Dr. Bhatia — believe that given their unique situation, a separate set of listing requirements should be made for them to make it onto the Main Board.

“This, I think, is a true recognition of the fact that economies are evolving,” she said.

“With the new companies coming through, we need to have a listing regime that allows them to potentially list here without necessarily meeting the same kind of requirements that were initially for the Main Board.”

Dr. Renu Bhatia. Photo: FCC

Circling back to Winter’s initial point that Hong Kong benefits from its close linkage to the mainland economy, Wong admitted that while it is helpful we shouldn’t ignore the geopolitics that also impact the local economy’s performance. To him, Hong Kong should also explore other market links to better its chances of improving.

“We all know that the Chinese economy is not going to come back very soon. The Sino-US geopolitical tension will still continue for a couple of years. So, I believe we need to look at new products,” Wong concluded.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

Is Hong Kong ‘over’? Stephen Roach’s FCC speech becomes talk of the town

Early this year, Yale economist and former longtime Hong Kong resident Stephen Roach wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times that became the talk of the town, thanks in no small part to its headline: “It pains me to say Hong Kong is over.” This month, he stirred up discussion again when he appeared at the FCC to expand on his dire prediction for Hong Kong’s economic future.

Roach, the former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, says his argument is based on three factors: Hong Kong’s tight links to mainland China’s sputtering economy, worsening U.S.-China relations that have caught Hong Kong in the crossfire, and the erosion of Hong Kong’s political autonomy under the Beijing-imposed national security law as well as the recently enacted local version.

“What’s really over?” he said at a fully-booked FCC Club Lunch hosted by Correspondent Governor Jennifer Jett. “What’s over, in my opinion, is the imagery that many still cling to in looking to the future of a prideful city — Asia’s world city, Milton Friedman’s favorite free market.”

Stephen Roach. Photo: FCC

“The Hong Kong of old is not the Hong Kong of today, and especially not the Hong Kong of tomorrow. The title of my article was intended as a wake-up call, an appeal for you in Hong Kong to come to grips with this seemingly harsh realization.”

Though Hong Kong’s defenders point to the city’s remarkable resilience in the face of challenging times such as the Asian financial crisis, the 1997 handover and the SARS epidemic, in Roach’s view “this time is different.”

“Without a rebound in the mainland Chinese economy, Hong Kong is unlikely to spring back to life on its own,” he said. “That’s because the linkages between the PRC and Hong Kong economies have become tighter than ever.”

Roach emphasized that he was not trying to be political but analytical, invoking Mao Zedong’s hallmark slogan to “seek truth from facts.” He urged the audience to take similarly “analytically-grounded, empirically-supported views.”

Roach said Hong Kong’s problems will get worse if left unaddressed, and that past solutions no longer suffice.

“The very real struggles of Hong Kong are not about to vanish into thin air. Like it or not, Hong Kong’s dynamism, its energy, and its independence are now in flux,” he said.

Stephen Roach. Photo: FCC

“You cannot afford to take your city’s seemingly innate resilience for granted. That’s what is over.”

Just as with his Financial Times article and a follow-up piece in The South China Morning Post, government officials and others strongly pushed back against Roach’s comments at the FCC.

In a 1,500-word statement that did not mention Roach by name, the HKSAR government said that “some individuals” had made comments on Hong Kong’s economy that overlooked the city’s advantages and “positive development momentum.”

Despite a complicated external environment, the statement said, the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese economies are growing at a faster pace than some developed economies. Hong Kong’s GDP grew 3.3% in 2023 and 2.7% in the first quarter of this year, it noted, and is projected to grow between 2.5% and 3.5% for 2024 overall.

Roach, who told The South China Morning Post that the government’s statement suggested a “worrisome sense of denial,” also cited economic growth figures in his remarks at the FCC. But he put them in broader context, noting that Hong Kong’s economic growth has decelerated in tandem with that of mainland China.

“Over the past 12 years, 2012 to 2023, the Chinese economy grew by an average of 6.3% annually; that was a 3.7-percentage-point deceleration from the spectacular 10% pace of the preceding 32 years from 1980 to 2011,” Roach explained.

“Spoiler alert: Growth in the Hong Kong economy has also decelerated by 3.7 percentage points, slowing from a 5.1% pace over 1980 to 2011 to just 1.4% from 2012 to 2023.”

That makes sense, Roach said, given increased cross-border integration.

“The Hong Kong economy has effectively been swallowed up by the mainland economy — hook, line, and sinker,” he said.

Executive Council Convenor Regina Ip also publicly criticized Roach’s FCC speech, saying in an opinion piece published by Hong Kong Free Press that Roach is no “prophet of Hong Kong.”

“It is true that Hong Kong is facing some tough economic headwinds because of geopolitical uncertainty and structural problems,” she wrote. “But its future is bright, because Hong Kong is working hard to restructure its economy.”

Ip also emphasized Hong Kong’s integration with the Greater Bay Area as a key driver of the local economy, adding that, “With strong support from mainland China, Hong Kong will never lack the resources we need to enhance our talent pool and technological capabilities.”

That reliance on China is exactly what puts Hong Kong in such a precarious position, Roach said, adding that he hoped the questions he was raising would make “good trouble” for a city he will always love.

“With China unlikely to regain its once powerful economic momentum, Hong Kong seems quite likely to follow suit,” he said. “With the case for Hong Kong’s resilience now made in China, we need to peer into the future through a very different lens.”

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

This Club Lunch is also available as our latest episode of The Correspondent, the FCC’s own podcast. Catch up with the lunchtime talk that became the talk of the town — from government press releases to Chinese and English-language opinion pieces:

Pandemic Minds: How Covid-19 Restrictions Impacted Our Mental Health and What We Can Learn From It

Multi-colored face masks. Only two people at a table before 6pm — no one afterwards. Scanning the “LeaveHomeSafe” app before entering restaurants and other public areas. Empty airports and fully booked quarantine hotels. Newborn babies torn from their mothers in the delivery room. Elderly patients dying on stretchers outside overflowing hospitals. Penny’s Bay.

These scenes from the COVID-19 pandemic that stalled daily life in Hong Kong for more than three years may seem as if they’re from a lifetime ago, but as FCC member and author Kate Whitehead reminds us, it was only last March when Hong Kong residents could go outside without wearing masks for the first time in 945 days. Though pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the mental health issues they caused have lingered, and in many cases gotten worse.

As a journalist and licensed psychotherapist, Whitehead said she thought it was important to document how the pandemic affected mental health in Hong Kong instead of simply forgetting about it now that life has moved on. Last year, she spent six months interviewing people from all walks of life for her new book Pandemic Minds: COVID-19 and Mental Health in Hong Kong (Hong Kong University Press). At an FCC Club Lunch shortly after the book’s publication in May, Whitehead told First Vice President Jennifer Jett about her writing process as well as coping techniques to promote mental well-being during challenging times.

Kate Whitehead. Photo: FCC

“Half the book is made up of first-person accounts of the pandemic, and I wanted to get all those stories when people still remembered all the details of it,” Whitehead said.

In the process of interviewing and writing, she met all kinds of people — rich, poor, local, expat, young, old — who were willing to share their stories. While many of them chose to use pseudonyms, Whitehead found all of their anecdotes useful in giving a comprehensive view of mental health in pandemic-era Hong Kong.

“It’s good to share your story… If you identify with an element in a story, it just makes you feel like, ‘OK, I’m not alone,’ right? And then that might empower you to share your story with someone else. These kinds of sharing of stories and talking about it — that is what breaks down stigma,” she explained.

One of the key takeaways from her interviews and writing process was how people in Hong Kong dealt with the uncertainty that the pandemic brought, which Whitehead finds to be crucial in maintaining good mental health.

“There is always going to be uncertainty, so you’ve just got to accept [it]. First of all, look at the situation and go, ‘Well, there are certain things that I can’t change and I’m just going to have to accept them. Certain things are out of my control,’” she said.

Kate Whitehead. Photo: FCC

Whitehead also included tips and “grounding exercises” in each chapter to help readers deal with stressful scenarios in their daily lives — pandemic or not.

Pandemic Minds also includes what Whitehead described as “happy chapters” that highlight some of the positive aspects of the pandemic, including how Hong Kong built new communities and individuals triumphed over difficult circumstances. One of these happy chapters explores the healing power of nature and the local hiking boom that was born from gym closures and residents’ desire to get out of the house.

Another “silver lining” of the pandemic is that it raised awareness about mental health in Hong Kong that is based on shared experience, and made these issues easier to talk about.

“So many of us — whether it was us personally or someone close to us — [were] going through something. I think it’s a silver lining that we talk about it now,” Whitehead said.

It’s important to have these discussions about mental health, she said, so that Hong Kong can be better prepared for similar situations in the future.

“If we’re planning for when there’s going to be another pandemic — it’s on the cards, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when — let’s learn from what happened,” Whitehead said.

“We really need to learn from this pandemic to make the next one less stressful.”

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

How Mongolia earned its nickname as the “Switzerland of Asia”

Mongolia, a landlocked country between authoritarian superpowers Russia and China, doesn’t make international headlines nearly as much as its Asian counterparts. Despite this, journalists like Johan Nylander have set out to learn more about how Mongolia’s democratic efforts impact the region and the rest of the world.

“There’s so many fascinating things about this country, it’s such a beautiful place,” Nylander began. “Very friendly people, amazing history, a lot of interesting things happening at the moment.”

Speaking at the FCC with First Vice President Jennifer Jett, Nylander outlined his process for writing The Wolf Economy Awakens: Mongolia’s Fight for Democracy, and a Green and Digital Future. The book began with Nylander’s genuine interest in the country combined with the realisation that not many people knew anything about Mongolia.

Johan Nylander, left, and Jennifer Jett, right. Photo: FCC

“A lot of people in the world, they don’t know almost anything about the country, like a lot of people don’t even know it exists,” he said.

Nylander spent a year traveling from Hong Kong to Mongolia after the COVID-19 pandemic, interacting with everyone from politicians to the average pedestrian who were all motivated to tell their stories. For his FCC talk, he focused primarily on Mongolia’s diplomatic relations and economy.

Neutral Mongolia has earned the nickname “the Switzerland of Asia” by gathering nations without official ties for formal discussions. This particularly comes into play with the yearly Ulaanbaatar Dialogue, which since the 1980s has become a unique forum where conflicting nations (primarily North and South Korea) can meet.

Mongolia was also the initial location for former US President Donald Trump to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for denuclearization talks in 2018, but the meeting was eventually moved to Singapore.

Mongolia’s economy is unique due to being primarily driven by the coal industry, giving the country another nickname: Mine-golia. In fact, around 5-6% of Mongolia’s GDP comes from coal, which Nylander explained is both a good and bad thing. Good in that Mongolia has become quite valuable to its Northeast Asian neighbors, but bad due to more resources leading to more issues in democracy and human rights.

Referencing the 2022 protests against Mongolia’s alleged “coal mafia” that has shaped the country’s economic development while excluding citizens’ social development, Nylander explained how serious Mongolia is about free speech. Mass protests are actually a common sight in the Mongolian capital and while non-violent, they are quite effective in changing the country for better.

Even when current politicians come into the public crosshairs, like current Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrain who was once a passionate protester himself, there is a mutual respect and understanding for the mission that protesters are trying to achieve for the country.

“Those are the best people,” Luvsannamsrain said when describing his critics.

Johan Nylander. Photo: FCC

Nylander then went on to highlight how the younger generations are using technology to innovate life in Mongolia, which the rest of the world could learn from. He first described e-Mongolia, an all-in-one app in which citizens can access all government services, including new passports, driver’s licenses, hospital appointments, and more.

“Wouldn’t that be great? Like, everything in one app?” Nylander said while noting that other nations that are regarded as “more developed” don’t have such an app.

When asked about other initiatives spearheaded by Mongolia’s youth, Nylander also mentioned green startups that aim to offset the environmental damage that such a large coal industry can produce. URECA is one of those startups that helps families, particularly in rural areas, transition from coal to solar power through a credit system that makes the infrastructure upgrade more affordable.

Just like the e-Mongolia app, Nylander also finds this type of technology impactful yet unparalleled in the rest of the world, and believes that more countries can adopt similar projects to combat transnational issues.

“Tech startups are the best when they can solve a local problem that also can solve a global problem,” Nylander concluded.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

Hong Kong doesn’t need a Formula One race, says motorsport expert Matthew Marsh

With Netflix’s Drive to Survive series fuelling a huge rise in the global popularity of Formula One and off-track controversies crashing the mainstream headlines, Formula One has seen plenty of action, even if one driver continued to dominate the early races.

To discuss the current state of F1 and the year ahead, motorsport expert and former champion driver Matthew Marsh spoke alongside Second Vice President Tim Huxley at the FCC, otherwise known as the “home of informed debate and witty banter” as described by Huxley himself.

The duo began their talk by first addressing the recent headlines surrounding Christian Horner, Team Principal of World Champions Red Bull, who in early February was under investigation for alleged misconduct with a female colleague. Marsh’s take was that the details aren’t clear, leading mainstream news organisations to publish stories that don’t truly inform readers of what’s going on.

Matthew Marsh, left, and Tim Huxley, right. Photo: FCC

“The daily newspapers do the scandal stuff, but they’re not actually really able to reveal anything specific because what are the specifics of the case with Christian? We don’t actually know,” he said.

Marsh explained that media that specialise in F1 coverage can better cover these types of scandals and that their knowledge of cases like Horner’s prevents them from ostracising leading figures in motorsport.

“The point is the specialist media know the details – I believe – because that’s why they haven’t thrown him ‘under the bus’,” Marsh clarified.

Horner was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing after Red Bull completed an internal investigation in late February.

Marsh also reflected on comments he made at his last FCC talk in September 2023 when he objected to the idea of F1 introducing an 11th team. Back then he didn’t think such a move was necessary and would perhaps dilute the professional nature of the sport, but now he is reconsidering.

“My mind has changed. It’s not so much that we need it, I just think it might be good,” he said.

Cadillac entering F1 and the addition of an estimated 1,200 jobs were a couple of reasons that Marsh cited for his change of mind, but he stopped short of supporting a second tier of F1 drivers. Given F1’s tight schedule, a second tier might not fit and could exacerbate current problems that Marsh has identified, like not enough racecar testing for less experienced drivers.

“Can we just have testing?” Marsh asked rhetorically.

Matthew Marsh. Photo: FCC

He also reminded the audience of other equally exciting and professional motorsport series: Formula E, Indycar, the FIA World Endurance Championship, and Le Mans – the last of which Marsh himself raced in as the first Hong Kong driver to compete in the 24-hour classic 2007.

“Indycar is amazing racing and that could be called a second-tier F1,” Marsh added.

Marsh also shot down the suggestion of Hong Kong becoming an F1 destination in order to increase tourism and boost the local economy.

“Hong Kong is a different city in a different position in time,” Marsh began. “If I was giving advice, my advice would be, ‘Shut up and leave us alone.’”

In 2024 the Hong Kong government announced a new set of tourism initiatives, including a series of “mega events” scheduled for the second half of the year, collaborations with social media influencers, and even drone shows above Victoria Harbour.

“I don’t think Hong Kong is a tourist destination. People come here – and sometimes on holiday – but if Hong Kong becomes a tourist destination, we’ve lost. We ain’t Phuket. So we should be left alone to get on with business and we need people to stop talking every day and let us get back to business. Agreed?”

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

Despite declining volumes through the port, panel of experts agree that Hong Kong will remain a global maritime centre

Over 80% of everything is transported by sea, making shipping one of the most crucial industries in the world. The ongoing war in Ukraine, Houthi attacks on ships traveling through the Red Sea, pandemics, and other geopolitical events can cause disruptions to global trade — with the biggest risk being placed on the seafarers and ships themselves.

To discuss these issues, as well as Hong Kong’s role in the global shipping industry, the FCC held a Club Lunch discussion with three Hong Kong based experts: Angad Banga, COO of The Caravel Group; Olivia Lennox-King, COO of Cetus Maritime; and the FCC’s own Second Vice President Tim Huxley, Chairman of Mandarin Shipping. Moderating the discussion was First Vice President Jennifer Jett.

“We really need to put the seafarer agenda top of mind and front of mind before anything else,” said Banga as he highlighted the different ways that geopolitical disruptions affected shipping.

To avoid conflict zones like the Red Sea, ships have increased their voyages by two weeks or more on average, which results in an additional $200-300K fuel costs. Crews on ships that still choose to travel through the Red Sea aren’t trained for warzones and run the risk of being hit with missiles or drones. Attacks on ships — which may or may not be operated by personnel from warring states or carrying related assets — have seen fatalities and caused mental health issues for seafarers.

“The seafarers are innocent and they’re not involved in any geopolitical event and they’re the ones that no one’s focused on here,” Banga concluded.

Lennox-King also shared her thoughts on modern conflicts’ impact on shipping, but with more of a focus on how the overall industry can (quite literally) maneuver around these issues.

“I have been guilty of using this expression before, but we do sometimes say that shipping loves a war because disruption creates volatility and volatility creates opportunities,” she began.

Ultimately, ships rerouting to avoid conflicts can benefit from increased revenues that result from the supply of ships contracting as a result of longer voyages which prompt rates to rise, all while keeping their crews safe and unharmed.

“We try to predict what’s coming next… but I’d say that shipping, generally speaking, is very adaptable and has done a very good job of absorbing these changes,” Lennox-King said.

Aside from global conflicts, the panel also discussed Hong Kong’s role in the shipping world. The city made its name by becoming an epicenter for global trade in the colonial era, at one point being a leading centre for shipbuilding in Asia, but that is in the past and also recent years has seen a decline in the volume of cargo passing through Hong Kong’s container port. Still, Hong Kong is home to three out of six of the largest container port headquarters, which results in more container ports being managed and controlled from the city versus anywhere else in the world.

“I certainly would not want to be in any other maritime centre than Hong Kong,” said Huxley, who also doubted the idea of the United States returning as a global shipbuilder despite recent threats to impose tariffs on non-U.S. built ships calling there.

While the US was a leader in ship building during WWII in order to combat Axis forces, the decades that followed have seen other countries — primarily Japan, South Korea, and China — become the major locations for the shipbuilding industry. China currently builds over 58% of the world’s ships, and while there may be a future for shipbuilding in Vietnam and The Philippines due to cheaper labour costs, Huxley remained firm on his prediction that the US ship building industry was a thing of the past.

“It is just this evolution of economies, and that’s what we’re seeing now. Any prospect of the Americans coming back as a global ship builder, I mean, I don’t think in my lifetime that I’ll be going to a ship launching in America.”

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

Liberal democracies may be leading downward, according to renowned Chinese political scientist

China’s rise as a global superpower over the span of just a short few decades has been met with both praise and criticism from the international community. The country has made advancements in technology, infrastructure, economics, and overall governance through a political system that rejects the widely-accepted ideologies of its peers — and its leadership shows no signs of compromise or change.

Eric Li, Chairman of Chengwei Capital and widely-known political scientist, makes his defense of China’s political system in his book Party Life: Chinese Governance and the World Beyond Liberalism. The book was published in October 2023, and the FCC was the first venue Li chose to talk about the book in March.

Speaking at the FCC alongside Correspondent Board Member Karen Koh, Li explained his political analyses by first outlining the three major crises that China has faced in the past decade: official corruption, economic inequality, and environmental degradation. China is only able to combat these issues through centralized, top-down policies.

“We need stronger leadership to correct the three major problems we talked about… Some people don’t agree with me. There could be a time — circumstances change — that we need more distributive power. That’s possible too, but it’s not now,” Li said.

Li also said that while “tremendous” improvements have been made on these issues, they are not “totally resolved”. Still, he finds that the Chinese government’s efforts to improve these three areas are proof that a political system unlike liberal democracies can still succeed.

When asked about his book’s overall theory on the future of liberalism, Li hypothesized that liberal democracies like the United States and other Western nations are leading civilization downwards when compared to the centralized Chinese government.

While Li admitted to being a believer of liberalism, free press, and elections during the 1990s, he doesn’t entirely agree with those concepts anymore. Given that he was speaking at the FCC — Hong Kong’s only press club — he further elaborated on his thoughts on freedom of speech, press, and information.

“I think press plays an important role in our society,” Li began. “Media [and] journalism are important, but if not regulated and managed well, it could do a lot of harm. It could harm actual human beings.”

To him, speech is an act, and if left unregulated, speech could result in disastrous consequences.

“Words matter. Words harm. And words must be constrained and regulated in a healthy, forward-looking society,” Li said.

Li was also asked about the United States’ recent proposal to ban Tik Tok, the international version of the popular video-sharing app Douyin from mainland China. Both Tik Tok and Duoyin are owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, yet cannot be accessed in Hong Kong.

Li reiterated the stance of former US President Donald Trump: don’t ban Tik Tok because Facebook is worse. Facebook, officially known as Meta, is inaccessible from mainland China, yet like Tik Tok has also come under fire for misinformation, hate speech, and other harmful content.

“It’s not a glorious case for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is in trouble in America. It’s in deep trouble because it’s causing so much harm,” Li concluded.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

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