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Asia seen as land of opportunity

December 18, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When Hong Kong's stock market crashed in October, it triggered a worldwide panic in financial markets, but every crisis presents an opportunity, according to John Unger.

"The Chinese characters for crisis translate, literally, into danger and opportunity," said the president of the West Virginia International Trade Development Council before leaving last Sunday for the Far East.

During a trip to Hong Kong and China that will last through the holidays, the Martinsburg man said he will try to build on ties he made during a trip earlier this year and to seek out new opportunities for the Eastern Panhandle.

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"With the financial crisis, some people will be looking to pull their money out of Asia and put it into the United States," Unger said.

The reason? The United States is viewed as a stable economy and a safe repository for investments.

"It's a tradition among many Chinese that they want their financial situation in order when they go into the new year," Unger said. The Chinese have a bit more time to do that since their New Year falls at the end of January, Unger said.

He began this trip a day after a delegation of West Virginia politicians and businessmen, some from the Panhandle, returned from a trade mission to Germany.

In June and July, Unger went to Hong Kong to observe the handover of the former colony from Great Britain to China.

During that trip, Unger also visited the mainland and Philippines, making more than 60 business contacts on behalf of West Virginia companies. He also had talks with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council about doing a market study of the Eastern Panhandle.

On his return trip, Unger said he wants "to see if we can try to get that pursued at an earlier date."

During his privately funded trip, Unger will attend a conference of the Global Network Group, a think tank of business and community leaders and scholars. The conference will focus on the Asian market crisis and its effect on the world economy.

The crisis has prompted the International Monetary Fund to put together a $68 billion bailout package to prop up the economies of Thailand, South Korea and other Pacific rim nations.

As part of the agreement, the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation group has agreed to eliminate tariffs on a range of products by 2010.

Unger said those include telecommunications equipment, and chemicals, lumber, agricultural and energy products, and others that could provide export opportunities for West Virginia.

He said he also will meet with commercial and industrial investment real estate agents about putting their money into the Panhandle.

Unger is familiar with the Far East, having worked there from 1988 to 1990, and again from 1994 to 1995.

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