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Speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration


The following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, at the opening of the CLSA Conference today (May 14):

Garry [Coull], ladies and gentlemen,

First, thank you for the very generous introduction Garry. And thank you for providing us with this platform to showcase our new Hong Kong Brand which you have just seen via video. And at the sharp end of the proceedings, we are grateful for the chance to take part in this Focus on Hong Kong.

Your invitation also presents me with the opportunity to extend to you all the warmest of official welcomes to this great international event - an event that famously combines hard-nosed business with high class entertainment. This year I am told it's the Corrs and Cirque du Soleil. What next, Garry?

It is a great pleasure for me to be here and see so many of my former constituents assembled in this room. I say that because if this conference had been held two weeks ago, instead of an unphotogenic Chinese man wearing his unconventional tie, you would have had before you the much more elegant sight of a charming Chinese woman wearing a power suit based on the traditional cheong sam style.

But we have always said that time never stands still in Hong Kong. And we have rung the changes at the top of our administration with Anson Chan's retirement. I am fortunate enough that the Chief Executive has chosen me to fill her vacancy. And my freshly-minted civil service colleague, Antony Leung - who many of you would know from his days as a banker - is now in the job I occupied for over six years. You will be hearing from Antony later. He's going to give you the low-down on the challenges facing the Hong Kong economy.

It's my job in my new role to paint a larger picture, to give the broad sweep of how I see things here in Hong Kong. Forgive me if I seem just a little prejudiced but, from where I stand, I think the picture is looking reasonably good. While I am no longer responsible for the management of our economy, I don't think I am stealing any of Antony's thunder when I say that we are in considerably better shape now than we were a couple of years ago. We have rebounded from the recession, which held us in its icy grip in 1998 and the early part of 1999. We recorded 10.5 per cent growth last year. Our medium term forecast puts us back on track for annual growth of around four per cent.

There is no denying we went through a period of severe pain during the downturn. But we have laid the foundations for the restructuring of the economy. We are moving away from an over-dependence on property towards the development of innovation and technology, which we will need to embrace if we are to be competitive as a knowledge-based economy.

We have undertaken major reforms in our banking and financial services sectors and further liberalised our economy in areas like telecommunications. There is much more, and Antony and his colleagues will no doubt have more to say on these issues in the next session.

For my part, I want to focus today on what I see as the underpinning software that makes Hong Kong tick. I want to talk about the glue that keeps this community together and makes it possible for our economy to prosper in the remarkable way that it does. For, at the end of the day, what is it that makes it possible to produce the economic performance and all those impressive statistics? Of course, there is only one answer - the people of Hong Kong.

This tiny place has progressed and prospered because of the quality and determination of our people. They come in all shapes and sizes. The entrepreneurs who have never been afraid to embrace risk and profit from it. The professional and managerial classes who have educated themselves to a high level of attainment in universities at home and abroad. The ordinary working men and women of this city who see hard work as a virtue and self-reliance as a matter of pride. Add to this mix an expatriate community from all corners of the globe that brings in know-how, commercial contacts and experience and you have that heady cocktail called Hong Kong. They are all part of the Hong Kong Brand.

There are good reasons why these people have confidence and faith in Hong Kong. And why they have continued to maintain this confidence for generations in spite of some formidable political and social obstacles. They have kept the faith because they know that Hong Kong is a free society based on the rule of law. They know that it is a place where every man and woman is treated equally. Where all of us, high and low, have the same standing before the law.

* They know that every member of the community, whether expatriate or local, plays on the same level field for business. They know the game is not fixed.

* They know that this is a place where corruption is not tolerated. Where law and order is maintained by a fine police force. That it is one of the safest big cities in Asia, if not the world.

* They know that Hong Kong is a place where freedom is alive and well and where protest and dissent, carried out within the law, is not only respected but expected.

* They also know that they can pick up their newspapers, turn on their television sets or tune in to their radios knowing that the news they see and hear comes to them free and unfettered and without the dead hand of government censorship or control.

* They know that this is a place where you can have a go and if you have a bright idea, a good business plan and a bagful of get up and go, you can join the ranks of the successful. Mind you, the people also know they have a clean, non-interventionist government which respects the right of businessmen and women to go broke if they get it wrong, as much as they respect their right to make a fortune if they get it right.

* And finally, they know that we are not going to tax the socks off them: 15% maximum salaries tax, 16% profit tax. This is the best incentive I know for hard work and business investment.

We believe the market place is not a place for the bureaucrat, except to provide the regulatory and physical infrastructure that gives the utmost encouragement and support to the people who make this place turnover at pace.

It's my job as Chief Secretary to see that all of this continues. Indeed, to see that it gets better. And to ensure that all of the hard and soft infrastructure we have created here over the years is kept in good order and top condition. This may be a challenging task, but it's one I tackle with some relish because I believe fervently in the Hong Kong way.

I am a product of the system. I come from a less than privileged background. But the very openness of our system and the encouragement it gives to people prepared to work hard and stay committed have provided me with a very rewarding career.

But more than that, I have sworn an oath to uphold all of the values and institutions of civil society I have described in this speech. That's because our constitution, the Basic Law, sets out in very clear detail how Hong Kong is to function as a Special Administrative Region of China - that remarkable concept originated by the late Deng Xiaoping which we call 'one country two systems'.

You saw last week, during the visit of President Jiang Zemin, how this works in action when hundreds, if not thousands, of people with some manner of grievance, real or imagined, vented their feelings in a way that would be familiar in all Western liberal democracies. Were we embarrassed? No. Why? Because everything we did was within the framework of the law and struck what we considered to be the right balance between the rights of the protestors and the rest of the community.

We and our visitors went about our business as normal, not only at the Fortune Global Forum - if I can give a free plug to another conference - but throughout Hong Kong. And those of a different mind set made themselves heard through the world's media.

That's the market place of ideas. It flourishes in this city. We would have it no other way. This is what 'one country two systems' is all about - preserving our way of life while upholding the dignity of our country.

I do however acknowledge that in handling major events of this kind where civil liberties are involved, for both participants and protestors, people will see things from different perspectives. We appreciate the nature of such diverse viewpoints in our own plural society - and indeed, internationally - and we are always prepared to listen to see what we can learn from them.

While all of you are here you will be able to see for yourselves that Hong Kong remains a vibrant and dynamic place. We have come through some tough economic times in the past two or three years. But we have come through them in better shape and better prepared to face the challenges of the global economy. We had a wake up call, and we smelt the coffee.

Hong Kong has always managed to stay ahead of the game. We don't intend to start slipping back now. China's accession to the World Trade Organisation presents us with a golden opportunity to leverage our unique position with the Mainland. It is another chance for Hong Kong to key in to the huge changes that are taking place in the Mainland economy. You can bet we will do just that.

For example, next week I will lead a delegation of over 100 local businessmen and women into western China where Hong Kong already has established a beachhead. It is an area that has been singled out by the Central government for promoting economic development. We are all looking forward with some anticipation to playing a part in this new and vital initiative to raise the economic growth of a region that, to date, remains largely untouched by investors.

Indeed, wherever the action is you are more than likely to find Hong Kong business people ready to make a sound investment. So, despite the temptations of going it alone into post-WTO China, the smart money will always have a Hong Kong partner to guide the way.

Finally, I would like to thank Garry once again for providing us this splendid opportunity to showcase Hong Kong. Our door is always open to your investment and your talent. I hope you have a most fruitful and enjoyable conference here in Hong Kong, Asia's world city.

Thank you.

Photo:The Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, attended the Credit Lyonnaise Securities Asia (CLSA) Conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. In a special "Focus on Hong Kong" session, Mr Tsang introduced Hong Kong's new global brand programme and gave a speech entitled "Macro Outlook for Hong Kong". Picture shows Mr Tsang addressing the guests.

End/Monday, May 14, 2001


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