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Sea continues to define history and culture of northern nation
The seafaring pioneer now boasts the world's biggest shipping line after rivals merge

16 April 2006
South China Morning Post

ONE OF THE biggest business stories to emerge in recent months comes from Denmark, where the world's largest shipping company was created with the formalising in February of Maersk Sealand's 2005 acquisition of P&O Nedlloyd. The combined mega company, with a global market share of 18 per cent, is now trading as Maersk Line.

This should be big news for an important port city such as Hong Kong, as well as other financial centres around the world.

And last month Maersk Line was named Best Global Carrier 2006 at a leading shipping-industry awards ceremony, held in New York, to mark the 50th anniversary of containerisation. The Danish titan of shipping is set to continue to rule the waves.

Denmark is similar to Hong Kong in that the sea has played a large part in defining the history, culture and lifestyle of both places.

Denmark's economy, arts, literary tradition and food culture have all felt the influence of the sea, from the stormy North Sea and the placid Baltic to oceans far from Danish shores. In fact, one might say the Danish national character is much like that of a seaman: independent, resourceful, freedom-loving and fresh-air loving.

There is another side to the Dane too - hygge. The word has no exact equivalent in English, but it means a combination of qualities: cosy, warm, comfortable and contented. The heavily laden word also evokes images of conviviality, festivity and harvests.

Today, Danes the world over will be wishing the head of state, Queen Margrethe II, a "hygge" birthday. The monarch's huge popularity is partly based on her people's perception of her as a hard-working, down-to-earth individual.

Since her accession to the throne on January 14, 1972, Queen Margrethe II has overseen an era of extraordinary economic change in the country.

"Denmark has been successful in hi-tech industries and in developing a knowledge-based innovation and service society with a high level of social welfare," said Søren Kragholm, Denmark's Consul-General in Hong Kong.

"The strategy has been to invest in education, research and development. Industries based on information and communication technologies have played a crucial role in shaping the Danish economy, and 'flexicurity' - flexibility in the labour market combined with social security - has created an extremely mobile economy."

All this has resulted in a high quality of life for the Danish people, despite the challenges posed by the EU's massive eastward enlargement in 2004 and the pressures of ageing demographics, which means fewer taxpayers.

Denmark has served as a model for countries and cities wishing to emulate its stability and business achievements.

Meanwhile, Danish business links with Asia continue to strengthen as opportunities open up in this part of the world. "Denmark's progress towards a high value-added economy holds much inspiration for Hong Kong," Mr Kragholm said.

"Our total trade with Hong Kong amounted to more than US$8.5 billion last year. Danish business interest in Hong Kong is significant. Hong Kong is one of Denmark's most important markets for goods and services in the Asia-Pacific region. There are 88 Danish companies with offices and investments here."

And interest is growing fast and steadily.

"Increasing numbers of Danish companies recognise the importance of Hong Kong as a platform for developing their business in China," Mr Kragholm said. "Denmark looks forward to strengthening and deepening its co-operation with Hong Kong in fields such as foods, shipping and logistics, electronics, health care, energy and environmental technology, and design."

Indeed, Denmark's reputation as a world-beating design centre has significance for high-achieving markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo.

"Design is an integral part of an economy's innovative capacity, and Denmark is a world leader in design, including industrial design," Mr Kragholm said.

"Denmark was happy to participate in Hong Kong's biggest design events last year. Many Danish companies showed a keen interest in Hong Kong and China business opportunities in design, architecture, innovation and technology."

Creativity seems to come naturally to the Danish people. Mr Kragholm saw a parallel between Denmark's most famous writer and the country's industrial creativity.

"The lucid imagination of Hans Christian Andersen is not so different from that of our award-winning architects or our designers, like Arne Jacobsen," he said, pointing to a bright orange Arne Jacobsen chair in his Wan Chai office.

"What unites them all is the vision to see beyond the predictable. Creativity is highly prized in Denmark. But having spent two years here in this incredibly vibrant city, I have to say that Hong Kong is buzzing with creativity too."

Denmark and Hong Kong may be physically far apart, but they are close in spirit, and brought even closer together by regular business and trade, thanks to Maersk Line and a host of other companies.
 

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I'm a product of all this! My dad (Danish) moved to Hong Kong some 35 years ago and met my mum (HK Chinese). Grew up in Hong Kong, went to an international school (KGV) and loved it! I'm in Manchester now but am definitely moving back to HK ASAP.
 
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