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(Yonhap Feature) Korean wave brings S. Korea, Hong Kong closer than ever

All Headlines 11:26 July 01, 2010

By Kim Young-gyo

HONG KONG, July 1 (Yonhap) -- Amy Chan, a 12-year-old girl who attends a local Hong Kong school, talks about South Korean boy band 2PM with her friends and sings along to its latest hit song "Without You."

She watches a TV program introducing South Korean popular songs, which is being aired once a week on one of the major broadcasters here. She is not alone and a growing number of teens and even adults are infatuated with South Korean songs and dramas.

In the 13 years since it returned to Chinese rule, the former British colony has been drawn to South Korea closer than ever, thanks largely to the popularity of Korean pop culture in the territory.

"With its cultural products successfully landing in the Hong Kong market, South Korea, boosted by its economic development, has enhanced its image and presence in Hong Kong," said Leung Yuk-ming, a professor of cultural studies at Hong Kong's Lingnan University.

The Korean wave, also known as "Hallyu," is the key to explaining the relationship between South Korea and Hong Kong for the last decade or so, she said. The word Hallyu means a phenomenon in which South Korea television shows and pop singers have become increasingly popular in neighboring countries.

Hong Kong's two major terrestrial broadcasters, TVB and ATV, present more than 20 TV shows from South Korea. Most of the shows, including "The Sons of Sol Pharmacy House" and "Heaven and Earth," have been aired during prime time.

"Traditionally, the Japanese culture has held a strong influence on Hong Kong, but now it has shifted to the Korean culture," the professor said. "Many people in Hong Kong began to feel more intimacy towards South Koreans rather than towards Japanese."

The cultural intimacy that Hong Kong people feel about Korea has led to successful entries of the South Korean brands into Hong Kong.

"South Korean beauty products appeal to Hong Kong women who have been watching South Korean celebrities through TV and films, and want to become like them," said Nam Su-mi, a spokeswoman for South Korea's No. 1 cosmetics maker AmorePacific Corp.

In September 2002, the company started to sell the popular Laneige brand in Hong Kong department stores, positioning it as an entry-level premium brand. The company now has Laneige brand shops in 172 department stores in 37 major cities in mainland China, including Parkson and Pacific Stores, which are the most popular malls in Shanghai.

"The successful launch of a product in Hong Kong boosts the success of the same product in mainland China," she said.

Hong Kong is the market where the South Korean companies can showcase their products to Chinese consumers and see the responses before going into that market, said a Samsung official, echoing Nam's view.

"Hong Kong is the arena of the struggle among the world's high-end brands and, at the same time, is a gateway to mainland China," said Dustin Lee, a manager at Samsung Electronics Co.

"This tendency has been more common, as it is estimated that about 20 million tourists from the mainland visit Hong Kong every year after marking 10 years since the handover to China," Lee said.

According to a report released by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, 5.5 million tourists from the mainland visited Hong Kong during the first three months this year, making up 64.3 percent of the total number of visitors in the period.

In order to expose itself to such a large number of visitors, Samsung Electronics set up last year a mega-sized neon signboard on the harbor side, one of the most popular tourist attraction sites in Hong Kong. The signboard casts lights into the sky over the harbor.

The Peninsula, Hong Kong's most internationally recognizable hotel, has changed TVs for its guest houses to Samsung from Sony after 20 years of using the Japanese brand. Samsung is the leading seller in Hong Kong of liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs, with a market share of more than 20 percent.

Hong Kong has been South Korea's fourth-largest export market after China, the U.S. and Japan. Bilateral trade between the two economies amounted to over US$21 billion in 2009, despite the global financial crisis.

In a bid to further boost the two sides' trade and investment partnership, business and economic leaders from South Korea and Hong Kong will attend the Korea-Hong Kong Business Round Table, slated to be held later this month in Seoul.

Chun Ka-lim, a senior research fellow at consulate general of South Korea in Hong Kong, stressed the strategic importance of Hong Kong to South Korea, as the territory is seeking increasing economic integration with China.

"Under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement signed in 2003, the Chinese government hopes to combine the financial influence in Hong Kong with the manufacturing industries in the southern area, in order to create an economic gateway attracting foreign capital to mainland China," said Chun.

"More South Korean companies will be able to tap into the mainland market through a close cooperation with Hong Kong."


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