By Tom Pattinson
Mabel Liu is a corporate lawyer focusing on cross-border and international mergers and acquisitions. She has 40 years of experience advising clients on Sino-foreign joint ventures having worked on China’s first modern JV in 1979
TP: Can you introduce yourself, where you were born, grew up and educated?
ML: I am a mother of three sons, born and raised in Hong Kong. My entire education was in Hong Kong, from primary school to my Masters of Law in the University of Hong Kong. I have never lived in another country.
TP: Can you tell us about your career progression?
ML: I was trained in what was formerly known as Johnson Stokes & Master (now Mayor Brown), the biggest local law firm at that time. I then joined my principal to set up our own firm one year after qualifying as a solicitor. In 1991, in anticipation of the possibility of immigration after Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, I joined the US firm Coudert Brothers.
From there, I moved on to start up a local firm with my partner Peter Carey whom I lost to a traffic accident in 1998. In 1999, I joined DLA Piper and helped that to grow from a three partner office to a multi-discipline practice with offices in Shanghai, Beijing and other Asian countries. After 17 years in DLA Piper, I joined the US firm Winston & Strawn with a view to develop its corporate practice. In 2017, I joined Withers, also with the mission of developing corporate practice.
Throughout 40 years in the profession, I have principally been a corporate /commercial lawyer, though also have experience in real estate and private wealth management. I see myself as a trusted advisor who can assist clients in a wide range of matters.
TP: You were involved in the first-ever JV in 1979 – can you tell us how that came about and how it took place?
ML: Maxim’s Group, the Hong Kong investor in the JV, was and still is a client and I assisted them in the set-up of the first JV in 1979.
TP: Have you seen a shift in recent years from inbound (CN) investment to outbound?
ML: I would not consider it a shift but, as I anticipated many years ago, China has developed from an inbound capital receiver to also providing outbound capital.
TP: What are some of the mistakes that companies still make when dealing with China?
ML: I think some of those working with the Chinese still make the mistake of underestimating the strength of China – both in terms of commercial sophistication and financial power.
TP: How do the issues affecting Hong Kong at the moment affect China’s image? And will this affect how businesses invest in China?
ML: It really depends to whom you are asking the question and what information they have received from the media. From my perspective, China has been very constrained and has not interfered with or even given direction to what should happen in Hong Kong. Despite the provocation, China is determined not to have a repeat of June 4th and those who are waiting for the People’s Army to come into Hong Kong will be disappointed. However, if you discuss the situation with people outside Asia who have not got the full picture from the media, they would think that China has already taken over Hong Kong. The people in China are robust about the country’s future. What is happening in Hong Kong should not affect business investment in China.
TP: The Greater Bay Area is clearly a huge regional development in China, what kind of opportunities do you think it will offer to international business that wants to get involved.
ML: Much anticipated by real estate developers, industrialists, and investors alike, the Greater Bay Area (GBA) has already received plenty of attention for its ambition to transform nine mainland cities and two special administrative regions into a new Silicon Valley-type technology and innovation hub. To help the region become more economically valuable, the initial plans are for it to become an important global centre for advanced manufacturing, and to also focus on innovation, financial services, transport and logistics, trade, and tourism and leisure. These are areas where the GBA is already strong, with different cities in the region already establishing their own unique strengths. Hong Kong is known as a world financial centre; Shenzhen is known as ‘China’s Silicon Valley’ because of its innovation and start-up culture; Guangzhou is known for manufacturing and as a logistics hub; whilst Macau and Zhuhai are known for leisure and tourism.
Further to this, in January 2017, China and Hong Kong agreed to build the Lok Mau Chau Loop Technology Park. Located in Hong Kong, right on its border with Shenzhen, the park will allow Hong Kong to tap into Shenzhen’s booming innovation and start-up ecosystem while also maintaining access to Hong Kong’s strong legal system and business environment.
The initiative will have an international impact beyond the GBA, as the region is located on the maritime section of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
TP: As a female business leader, what challenges and obstacles have you personally overcome in your career and how did you deal with them?
ML: I am often asked this question and I have to say that I have had very few challenges or obstacles as a woman. With domestic help and family support, I have always been able to maintain dedication to my work and career while raising the family. Woman are not in the minority in the legal community in Hong Kong and there is no strong discrimination against women.
TP: What advice would you give young female entrepreneurs or those trying to further their careers?
Women should not consider themselves any different from men. Women have to believe in equality first. On the other hand, it is important to have a clear understanding of one’s priorities. Thus, if a young female entrepreneur wishes to dedicate herself to her family and take a break from her career, she should do so and should feel no stigma. It does not make sense for a woman to try to do both tasks at the same time, putting herself under immense pressure while struggling to succeed with both tasks.