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CS's speech in London


Following is a speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London today (UK time November 19):

Lord Marshall, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I am truly honoured to be joining you today. The Institute has taken a deep and concerned interest in Hong Kong affairs over many years. I hope that will continue for many years to come. Your invitation gives me an opportunity to provide a first-hand update on how Hong Kong is faring under the unique experiment of 'One Country, Two Systems'. This is also my first major speaking occasion in the UK since assuming my role as Chief Secretary for Administration of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region Government. I have held the post for just over seven months now, but I think I am managing to find my way around the ropes. More important, I can honestly say I'm enjoying the job.

Slipping into a new job is never easy, and in my case it has not been made any easier by the fact that I'm following such a brilliant act as Anson Chan, whom many of you know. In Hong Kong, the papers say the bow tie has taken over from the cheong sam. Of course, I do not come kitted out with Anson's famous dimples but, apart from that, we have a huge amount in common. Professionally, we are chips off the same block.

We come from the old school of public officials in Hong Kong who have been imbued with the ideals and practices of a meritocratic civil service; where duty is placed above personal gain; honour above advancement; where sectoral demands are subservient to the wider public interest; and policy formulation and decision-making are collegiate, and based solely on what best serves the public good. Add to that the mix another sacred principle : that taxpayers money is placed in the hands of civil servants on public trust, and must therefore be spent wisely and well. We function as an open and accountable government principally because these elements form the backbone of our administration.

The discipline I have just described has served Hong Kong well over many generations. As the official with direct responsibility for our 180,000-strong civil service, it is my priority to protect and promote the core of those traditions and values. They have earned the trust and respect of Hong Kong people and, if we are to fulfill our true potential, we must never lose that trust and support.

This is not to say that I am in favour of fossilisation. Indeed, our public service is a dynamic and living organism. It is remarkably resilient and adaptable to change precisely because it is so firmly rooted in its fundamental values.

But let me first place on record the importance of our relationship with the United Kingdom, which shares our unique place in history. Our legal system - one of our greatest strengths - is firmly rooted in English common law. The UK remains one of our strongest trade and investment partners - trade worth GBP3.6 billion last year. More than that, we maintain very strong cultural, personal and family ties. Britons remain one of our largest expatriate groups. Thousands of our young people are educated in Britain's schools, colleges and universities. Manchester United and Liverpool supporters are as fanatical in Hong Kong as they are in England.

To me, that is the beauty of the place I'm proud to call home. We are a quintessentially Chinese city. Yet a Chinese city that is living comfortably alongside and absorbing the habits, foibles, customs and even eccentricities of other cultures. We have two official languages - English and Chinese. Our constitution mandates our role as an international financial centre.

All of this is what gives us our international dynamic, our cosmopolitan character, our open and tolerant way of life, our broad vision of the world, the welcome we extend to people and talent from wherever they may come.

It's one of the reasons we are not scared of globalisation, but instinctively recognise the opportunities in its many-faceted challenges. We are Asia's world city.

Mr Chairman, I realise that much of what I have said about Hong Kong may be familiar to an audience as distinguished and as knowledgeable as this. But I believe it is important for the people of Hong Kong - and certainly the Government of the Special Administrative Region - to reassert resolutely and without ambiguity the fundamental values which have earned Hong Kong recognition as one of the freest societies in Asia.

I believe there has been a general recognition among the international community that the 'One Country, Two Systems' arrangements slotted into place on July 1, 1997 have been a remarkable success. The British Government and the European Commission have also recently issued reports saying much the same thing.

Now this is no mean feat when you consider it was barely more than four years ago when some analysts and observers anticipated the 'death of Hong Kong' upon our reversion to Chinese sovereignty. There were dire forecasts of creeping cronyism and corruption; a whittling away of political freedoms and civil liberties; pressure on our judiciary - all overlaid and orchestrated by political puppet masters from Beijing. Frankly, these were at the apocalyptic end of too many ill-informed predictions, and were never likely to happen.

Nonetheless, I acknowledge and respect the fact that people did have genuine concerns, if for no other reason that none of us had ever before encountered such a bold constitutional enterprise. Against that background, I always drew comfort from the knowledge that men and women of goodwill everywhere wanted this extraordinary experiment to succeed. It is good to think that these same men and women can now see that the experiment has so far lived up to their hopes and perhaps exceeded their expectations.

It is an interesting commentary on how swiftly we are carried away by the flood tide of events that the implementation of 'One Country, Two Systems' has been so successful to date that the world at large seems to have lost interest in it, or does not recognise the achievement of accommodating the quite distinct social, economic and legal environments within a single nation. Apart from the immediate and direct parallel as far as Taiwan is concerned, I am left to wonder why the positive outcome of the imaginative process in Hong Kong - and, indeed, Macau - has not been examined more deeply as a potential model for the resolution of territorial disputes where there is a need for the fusion of different systems.

Of course, the promising results in Hong Kong have not happened by accident. Nor could they in a situation as complex and as sensitive as Hong Kong found itself in the run-up to 1997. Many factors came into play to bring about what we have seen since then. I will cite those I consider to be decisive.

First, the vision of Deng Xiaoping in creating the concept of One Country Two Systems. Without this, and his unimpregnable authority, how much would have been possible? Second, the single-mindedness of the Chinese and British governments to find ways around some very daunting obstacles in their pursuit of the ultimate goal of securing arrangements that would ensure Hong Kong's long-term stability and prosperity. The 12-year negotiating time frame certainly gave the two parties breathing space, and plenty of time for the community to contemplate its future.

Third, the commitment of our leaders in Beijing to a post-handover 'hands-off' policy to give the fledgling SAR the freedom to find its own feet and its own way within the high degree of autonomy guaranteed by the Basic Law. And last, but far from least, the commonsense and down-to-earth resolve of the Hong Kong people to make 'One Country, Two Systems' work. Without their belief, their confidence, their spirit of get-up-and-go, 'One Country, Two Systems' would still be a slogan, not a reality.

Those of you who know Hong Kong and its people can appreciate what that means. It means a people who are cognizant of their rights, and how to stand up for them. A people who understand their obligations, and how to discharge them. A people who have learned from adversity that the world does not owe them a living.

Having said that, I would not for a moment pretend that the transition has been a walk on the beach. Those of us who were involved over many years in intense - and often tense - negotiations in the run-up to the Handover knew that it wasn't going to be like that.

Since the transition, we have debated intensively but openly within Hong Kong sensitive issues involving the rule of law, press freedom, democratic development, freedom of religion and belief and, just recently, a very sensitive matter impinging on national security. You will be familiar with some of these issues because they have raised concerns among our friends here and elsewhere. I'll be happy to discuss them in detail during question time.

At this stage, I simply want to make this point: in dealing with all of these issues, our starting point has been, and will continue to be, the high degree of autonomy we enjoy under our constitution, the Basic Law which protects the special interests of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. That autonomy, which separates the Hong Kong system from the one in the Mainland, is fundamental to our continuing success. It is what 'One Country, Two Systems' is all about. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government realises that. The people of Hong Kong understand that. And, I submit, the leadership in Beijing has clearly demonstrated its commitment to that very simple and telling truth. Collectively, we believe it is in our highest national interests to defend and preserve this spirit of Hong Kong. The international community begins to accept that too.

That is why I am able to say to you today that as a result of the decisions we took in those controversial issues I mentioned earlier, the institutions involved remain intact, or even strengthened. Our legal system is as robust as ever - I can testify to that by the number of times our government is taken to court. In fact, I've even been taken to court by my cook - and lost. Our judiciary is widely respected, with our Court of Final Appeal handing down judgments without fear or favour, and not the slightest hint of intimidation.

Our press and legislature are as lively, outspoken, demanding and as argumentative as you will find anywhere. I have the lumps and bruises to prove it. One way and another, civil society is in rude good health in Hong Kong and is maturing in a way that augurs well for the development of our democratic processes as laid down in the Basic Law.

In my nearly 35 years in the civil service, I have seen Hong Kong work its way through many ups and downs, both economic and political. The spillover from the Cultural Revolution in the mid-60s; the oil crisis of the mid-70s; the run on our currency in the mid-80s; Tiananmen. Such events have tested our resilience and developed our political savvy.

The lessons of our history have stood us in good stead these last four years. Not simply in straddling the historic transition of 1997. That of itself is achievement enough. I refer more particularly to how Hong Kong has dealt with the enormous challenges thrown up in the wake of the Asian financial crisis and September 11. These challenges still reverberate in Hong Kong today. They have been exacerbated by the terrible events in the US, which accelerated a slowdown that was taking place in that economy anyway.

In the short term, we are looking at leaner times. Our GDP growth is contracting more sharply than we had forecast following a strong 10.5 percent rebound last year. This is obviously disappointing considering the difficulties our community endured during the tough years of 1998 and 1999 when we were caught in the wringer of the Asian financial crisis. At the moment, our economy is being squeezed between the rock of the worsening global economic climate and the hard place of significant restructuring of our domestic economy.

I cannot deny that we are suffering short term pain. But equally I believe we can look forward to long term gain. I base that faith on my conviction that Hong Kong's destiny, so often in the past predicated on momentous events in China, will once again be decided by what is now happening in the Mainland.

China's robust economic growth over the past few years is a testament to the policies and determination of the leadership to modernize the Mainland economy. These policies have created the conditions for unparalleled prosperity and social upward mobility for China's diverse and enormous population. Its access to WTO last week will enhance the reforms and promise an even more open market. As part of the nation, we can be proud of these achievements and ambitions. We can also be proud of the contributions we have made to the realization of the country's dreams. Since Deng Xiaoping ushered in the Open Door Policy in 1978, Hong Kong has been the catalyst for the spectacular economic growth of Southern China, in particular the Pearl River Delta.

But that's not all. Hong Kong is not just the largest external investor in Southern China, it is the largest external investor in every province in the country. Asia's world city has quite a foothold in its own backyard.

This presents us with an unrivalled opportunity to leverage our location, know-how and network of contacts in every corner of the country. Those who believe Hong Kong's role will be diminished by China's WTO membership miss the point of the value our businessmen and women add in the complicated process of doing business in China in terms of culture, connections, language and experience. Certainly, there will be those who will want to deal with China direct, but many more, particularly the smaller and medium sized enterprises, will seek out Hong Kong partners.

They will also be looking for the comfort and security of Hong Kong's software - our well-established infrastructure of the rule of law, the free flow of information and ideas, and clean, open and accountable government which guarantees a level playing field for all. These are the key components of the Hong Kong advantage which are simply not replicated in other cities of the Mainland or the region. Bear this in mind when you hear people talking about the rising star of Shanghai, a great city for sure but one that will complement, rather than compete with, Hong Kong as China's economy continues to grow and open up.

Mr Chairman, I fear I have taken up too much of your time. But in my first meeting with you in my new role, I wanted to underline the ongoing commitment of the SAR Government to the values we share with our friends in the UK; to assure you that we acknowledge the interest, concerns and support of our friends here; and to remind you that whatever our current difficulties, Hong Kong is still by far Britain's most reliable and exciting business partner in Asia.

Thank you very much.

End/Monday, November 19, 2001


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