Following is the transcript of a question and answer session by the Financial Secretary, Mr Henry Tang, during the luncheon of the Second Pearl River Delta Conference at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre today (October 17)(English only):
Question: What would you in government like to see us, the citizens of Hong Kong, do to help in Pearl River integration?
Financial Secretary: Thank you very much, Tad. People in Hong Kong are already travelling to the Pearl River Delta - for golf, for weekends, for shopping, for visiting relatives and for doing business. But in order for us to really make that leap, we will need a mentality change; the boundary that we have at Lowu is a boundary that ensures the integrity of the 'One Country, Two Systems' but it should not lead to a mentality that Hong Kong stops at the boundary itself in Lowu. With the integration and the co-operation of the Pearl River Delta, this boundary does not even stop in Guangdong as we are part of China. In order to capture and realise the potential of the 'One Country, Two Systems', the potential of CEPA, and the potential that all of us in Hong Kong can realise, I think every business, every person, every man, woman and child, should make this mental change. Our future Disneyland tourists will not come just from Hong Kong or other parts (in the region), they will be from the whole of China, so it is a mentality change.
Question: Mr Financial Secretary, Macao and Mainland China will sign their own CEPA in about less than one hour. Could you comment on the effects of that CEPA, and also how we can take advantage of that?
Financial Secretary: I will not tell you to move to Macao. We have been expecting that they will make fast progress on the Macao-Mainland CEPA. I believe this is something that will be very beneficial to Macao because Macao is a very important economic force as well, and they are rapidly developing.
As far as Hong Kong's relationship with Macao (is concerned), I believe the bridge that we will be building - the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge - is going to make leaps and bounds gains to bring us closer to our brothers just on the other side of the Pearl River estuary. I think the CEPA that they are going to sign will enhance the relationship between Macao, the Mainland and also Hong Kong. I believe there will be other opportunities that we could take advantage of after they have signed it.
Question: Henry, there are a lot of aspects of CEPA that I think are terrific and that are going to do a great deal of good but there are some parts of the Hong Kong economy that are basically seeing it as a sort of manifesto for favour-seeking. I attended a seminar that you chaired two weeks ago with the Central Policy Unit - two weeks to the day - at which you were robust in this but the questions from the floor were essentially a litany of questions asking the government to provide subsidies for this, support for that, to restore this part of the manufacturing economy. It disgusted me that so many companies are into this favour-seeking mode but it would distress me more if I thought you were responding positively to it. Could you tell me what your approach is to those kinds of ministration?
Financial Secretary: What did I say two weeks ago? CEPA is an open and continuous process but it is also an open platform for businesses to capture the opportunities that are opening up to them. I call it an opportunity of a lifetime. When Premier Wen was in Hong Kong on June 29th for witnessing the signing of CEPA, he said it very, very well, and he said: CEPA is not Central People's Government's gift to Hong Kong. The Central People's Government's gift to Hong Kong was the 'One Country, Two Systems'. CEPA is a bilateral open channel to improve and to facilitate trade and investment between the Mainland and Hong Kong. And he went on to talk for ten minutes on why it is mutually beneficial.
The Government, after having signed CEPA, and operationalised it by the six annexes, we have been very diligently and trying very hard to ensure that the facilitation role that we will be doing in the future, we do it well. So we have set up a one-stop hotline to answer CEPA enquiries to ensure people will understand it, and we have received well over 1,000 of enquiries. But we are not the most popular stop, I found out. The most popular website that people go to for enquiries on CEPA is the TDC website. It is, perhaps, because TDC is a quasi government organisation, so they write it in a more user-friendly form. And government being government will write everything exactly as it is without embellishing or without any of the enhancements that TDC could provide. But we have received a lot of interest, a lot of enquiries on it.
As far as government is concerned, our policy has always been: we very much believe in market driven economies. If the marketers can do it properly themselves, leave it to the market, we will not intervene in it. Our job is to open up markets, lay down the platform; but it is up to the businesses themselves to capture those opportunities. Was that what I said two weeks ago?
Question: Mr Financial Secretary, I need advice on this: Do you think the Renminbi will go up or down - or remain the same?
Financial Secretary: It will be stable. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of having a stable currency to enhance and promote trade, business and the stability of the whole country. So my outlook: stable.
Question: Financial Secretary, do you feel there is any contradiction between your stated enthusiasm for the 'no-brainer bridge" as I believe Mr Dodwell calls it, and the fact that you wish to see the full asset value of the airport returned in cash to the government through privatisation? I obviously refer to the fact that they both provide an economic stimulus to the community.
Financial Secretary: There is a company which probably most people don't know; it is called FSI - Financial Secretary Incorporated. It is a holding company that holds all government assets, whether it is the Airport Authority, the two rails. I believe it needs my signature before anything goes on there. One of the key principles of FSI is that the assets that we hold must operate on prudent commercial principles, and prudent commercial principles should mean that this company is operated in such a way that they could become, one day, listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, as MTRC has done. So, therefore, it is our policy that this principle should be abided by. And also, I am not ruling out the possibility that the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge could become either a private party participation kind of scheme or whether any other variation thereof.
End/Friday, October 17, 2003