It was no accident that the main language used at last week’s launch of the TV section of the Hong Kong Intl. Film and TV Market Expo was Mandarin Chinese, even though the lingua franca in Hong Kong is Cantonese.

Local dignitaries described the bright future of Hong Kong TV within a broader Asian context at the four-day Filmart event organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, but they were using the vastly different northern Chinese lingo to do so.

Cultivating relationships in China is essential to develop growth for broadcasters from all over the region, including Japan and Korea as well as Chinese-speaking areas, such as Taiwan.

Bitter rivalries exist between some countries, usually based on historial clashes — China and Japan still spar diplomatically about issues related to WWII, as do South Korea and Japan — although many countries in the region share strong cultural similarities.

South Korean sudsers, such as “The Jewel in the Palace,” are very popular in China, although sometimes they have to be doctored to avoid stepping on toes about historical facts — memories are long in the region, stretching back thousands of years.

Zheng Xiaolong, head of the mainland’s China Radio and TV Assn., pointed out that China makes 15,000 programs a year.

“We distribute them through (state-owned broadcast group) China Central Television, provincial TV and in the rural market, and we cannot neglect the online market either,” he said.

Increased investment meant the quality was improving, he added.

Jun Ogawa, director of international affairs at Japan’s Tokyo Broadcasting System, painted a picture of a crisis-ridden industry, with advertising revenues collapsing.

“We’re all playing against the wind, foreign and Japanese broadcasters. In Japan the economy is hitting commercial TV bad,” he said.

One option he put forward for helping Asian programmers get together would be to come up with something similar to the Franco-German joint venture cultural channel Arte.

Another possibility was providing a forum where producers from different countries could get together, brainstorm ideas, work on one, then go their separate ways and develop the project.

Kong Lingyuan, director of the Weisi channel at Tianjin TV in China believes that common ground can be found on licensing copyright for content, currently a prickly issue in a country that adapts foreign formats at will.

“We are doing a Chinese version of the Korean show ‘One Family’ and are looking to find a way to ask the Korean company if we can obtain the licence,” he said.

Ultimately, however, the debate in Hong Kong highlighted that fact that these countries remain divided by a number of issues.

“Co-production is easy to talk about but hard to do,” said Jun.