Following is the speech on "Welcome Back to Asia's World City" by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joseph W P Wong, at Gala Dinner of the Salzburg Seminar yesterday (June 28):
Chairman Huffington, President Robison, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege to be here on this wonderful occasion, in a heritage setting and among the company of such a distinguished gathering. And it is the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government's honour to co-host this dinner as part of our campaign to relaunch Hong Kong after our victory in the battle against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) - I shall say more of that in a moment.
First, let me say a little about myself and about what I believe Hong Kong can bring to an occasion like this.
I joined the Hong Kong Government thirty years ago. I have seen Hong Kong transformed in the three decades since. As a trade official in the 1980s and Hong Kong's Permanent Representative to the GATT (now the WTO) in Geneva for three years in early 1990s, I came to see first hand the enormous stimulus to economic activity given by an open market. Hong Kong's free market has fuelled economic growth that has completely transformed Hong Kong and the living standards of its people over the past thirty years. And it has created a natural transition from a manufacturing centre, to a major trading centre, a business centre and a financial centre. Indeed, similar transformation, but in a much larger scale, has been taking place in China; and this process will accelerate as China implements various market liberalisation programmes in the discharge of its obligations as a new member of the WTO.
It is equally clear that Hong Kong's strong and independent legal system, freedom of speech, the presence of a critical media and the vital elements of an open, inclusive society, have given a similar stimulus to the academia, arts and culture in general. We are a very practical example of how the right environment can foster social and cultural development.
The benefits of developing such a society range from the purely practical to the highly creative.
At a very practical level, Hong Kong's recent success in overcoming the sudden, unexpected and previously unknown SARS virus was enormously helped by the openness of our society and the strength of its medical and research establishment.
When SARS struck in March we had no idea what it was. We were hard hit almost before we knew it - in a single day we had 80 new cases. Within three months we have identified the virus and mode of transmission, developed a diagnostic test and a treatment protocol, and put in place far-reaching quarantine and hygiene disciplines that have eradicated the virus in Hong Kong and helped stop it spreading to the world.
We worked closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) whose senior personnel have thanked Hong Kong for the contribution of our outstanding scientists, epidemiologists and clinicians, who were at the forefront of efforts to track down source cases in the various clusters, identify the causative agent, develop diagnostic tests, and work out treatment protocols. Some of our frontline workers have given up their lives in the cause; but they will live forever in our hearts.
The WHO has just delisted Hong Kong as a SARS-affected area, we want to relaunch Hong Kong as a world city of renewed vitality.
As Secretary for the Civil Service, I am proud to tell you that the Hong Kong civil service has again risen to the challenge. Allow me to be immodest: we have one of the most dedicated, professional, efficient and corruption-free civil services in the world. We always score top marks from overseas visitors and businessmen in any international surveys of the civil service.
For some of you who have not yet visited Hong Kong, I extend a warm welcome. I assure you that the moment you land in our beautiful airport, which was just put into operation in 1998, you will experience the efficiency of our public service. In 20 minutes' time you can pick up your luggage, pass through our immigration counter and step into our Airport Express. Half an hour later, you will arrive in the centre of city. You will enjoy your stay in one of the safest places in the world. You can get anything done, legally of course, any time of the day and throughout the night. By the way, all our Government offices open on Saturdays!
Hong Kong's economy is being transformed by growing integration with Mainland China's economy. The Pearl River Delta adjacent to Hong Kong is the fastest growing manufacturing centre in the world. This process is about to receive a further stimulus. The Hong Kong and Mainland authorities have just concluded the details of a Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, which will be signed in a matter of days. This will be a cause for celebration.
It is also very satisfying to celebrate with you the value of culture and the arts in the international dialogue to which the Salzburg Seminar is dedicated.
Hong Kong used to be called a "Borrowed place on borrowed time". No longer. The openness that has helped our business and professions flourish has also helped Hong Kong develop a vibrant and unique culture. We have heard something of that this evening in the music brought to us by Warren Mok. Suffice to say this evening that Hong Kong has learnt that openness develops the arts, and the arts encourage openness. Hong Kong's cultural and artistic scene is a wonderful blend of oriental and western cultures.
Indeed Hong Kong is above all a meeting place of ideas and people. That is why I think we have something important to share with the Salzburg Seminar. I believe it is why our former Solicitor General, Daniel Fung has been so attracted to and supportive of this great institution. It is why, as Secretary for the Civil Service I have sent many of our promising young managers to attend conferences here.
We feel at home here. Even the geography has a certain similarity. Like Salzburg we are surrounded by high hills. Hill-walking in Hong Kong is a great enjoyment. About 40 per cent of the land area is country park, and much of that is hilly with marvellous views. Hiking trails are popular. And one of the best known hill-walkers is an Austrian, a leading Hong Kong businessman known to some of you - Helmut Sohmen. I am not sure whether I could say that our hills are alive with the Sound of Music, but they do attract many people of many nationalities.
Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to developing a closer relationship with the Salzburg Seminar and playing our part towards its goal of international dialogue. And I look forward to seeing many of you in Hong Kong. We are a great meeting place. We are a window on a fascinating and fast-growing region. And we really are Looking Ahead.
End/Sunday, June 29,2003