By Chris Adams

For the leader of one of the largest American Chambers of Commerce outside the United States, the first two years of the U.S.-China trade war have been busy and nerve-wracking.

Tara Joseph, president of AmCham Hong Kong, detailed for National Press Foundation fellows how the trade war between the United States and China has accelerated interest in all things Hong Kong – and that was before the massive June 2019 protests when a million or more people packed the streets, objecting to China’s encroachment on the city’s affairs.

“This year was quite incredible,” Joseph said. In previous years, the Hong Kong chamber might have had to fight for attention from Washington. In the wake of the trade war and the protests, that was no longer the case.

Joseph had a unique perspective to share with the NPF fellows. A journalist for most of her career with Reuters, she moved in 2017 to AmCham, where she represents American business interests and fosters commerce among the U.S., Hong Kong and mainland China.

Joseph showed how the trade and business environment had changed since the early 2000s, when she arrived in Hong Kong as a reporter. Then, the stock exchange was a much sleepier place, where people took long lunches and the exchange was heavily populated by British companies.

But then Chinese companies started coming in, and by 2008 – the time of the Beijing Olympics – China emerged on the world stage. “Things really started to change from that time,” she said. “China just became, as a journalist, the story.”

But the story has started to change again. Now, amid uncertainty caused by the trade war, businesses are looking outside of China to build supply chains and manufacturing operations. Vietnam is a particularly compelling draw for some companies.

Joseph’s member companies, she said, are worried: “They don’t know where the China trade is going. It’s very hard for them to make strategic decisions.”