‘I have spent much of my life learning about THREE key topics – China, Environment, and Politics. They have now become “fused”. China’s rise is having a major global impact, including on the environment, as well as politics and geopolitics. I continue to observe, study and reflect on these changes.’
IN HER OWN WORDS
Comfortable with multiple identities
I am from Hong Kong. When I was born, Hong Kong was a British colony. I am British educated with an English law degree. My father’s family went to Hong Kong from Shanghai in the early 1950s. My mother’s Cantonese family is 6th generation Hong Kong. You could say I have a stake in several camps – Hong Kong, a unique city; Shanghai, where the Lohs are from; Guangdong, the origin of my maternal family; China, my country; and Britain, where I was educated.
Commercial experience & China
I am a commodities trader by profession. My first job in the 1980s was in Beijing, as Girl Friday to Philipp Brothers, the then multinational commodities trading company with headquarters in New York. No one wanted to be stationed in China in those days – it was a hardship post. I helped open the firm’s representative office there and learnt the tricks of commodities trading. My interest in natural resources, as well as China’s development started then. In my time as a commodities trader, I traded nonferrous metals to start with, then sugar, before moving on to petroleum products.
In the mid-1980s, my journey to learn about Planet Earth started when I joined Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong. It led me to observe China’s industrialization and urbanization from an environmental perspective. I saw the degradation and then efforts to start cleaning-up.
I got interested in public policy through my membership of an armchair-critic group in Hong Kong. We wrote Op-Eds in newspapers; and I started to represent the group to speak on all sorts of public affairs topics. The reversion of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Britain to China became a major issue through the 1980s and 1990s. Between 1992 and 2000, I was in frontline politics as a legislator in Hong Kong. I ran two successful elections, one in 1995 and one in 1998. I championed environmental improvement, equal opportunity, and electoral reform.
My legislative experience helped me to understand how government works and how policy is made. Politicians are not always able to grasp the complexities of the issues they have to deal with. I decided not to stand for re-election in 2000. Instead, I set-up a non-profit public policy think tank – Civic Exchange. I wanted to help politicians and the public to engage on policy issues, and to involve government officials in the process. In 2012, I was invited to join the HKSAR Government as the undersecretary for the environment. I was able to put thoughts into action – had some successes, including working with counterparts in mainland China, such as on air quality, shipping emissions, as well as conservation and biodiversity.
Things coming together
I stepped down from my ministerial role in 2017. Today, I am the Chief Development Strategist at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Institute for the Environment. Since 2018, I have also been Visiting Professor at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, teaching an MBA course on nonmarket risks. These associations give me the opportunity to fuse China, geopolitics and the environment together. China’s rise is causing geopolitical shifts in the world, as shown by US-China conflict over so many areas. However, the existential threat of climate change has the potential to bring them and other nations together in partnership. Evidence-based research is needed and political wisdom to navigate a challenging path.