Press Release

 Email this articleGovernment Homepage

Speech by the Secretary for Security


Following is the full text of a speech by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, at the luncheon hosted by the Hong Kong Association in London, UK today (September 16, London time):

Hong Kong's Perspective in Regional and International Security


Baroness Dunn, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank you and the Hong Kong Association for your hospitality in inviting me to this wonderful lunch.

It was in the autumn of 2001 when I last visited London in my former capacity as the Director of Immigration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). The events across the Atlantic during that autumn had changed the world of its perception of security and the way we react to threats of terrorism and violence. I will, in the next few minutes, try to explain how we in Hong Kong are responding to this new 'order.'

Some old tricks


Perhaps I shall begin my presentation of this very much current issue with an old Chinese story. During the 'Warring States' period more than 2,000 years ago, people at a certain village in the Song state earned their living by washing cotton threads. Since their hands were in constant contact with cold water, they were prone to suffering from chilblains and cold sores. Throughout the years, the villagers developed a herbal ointment to protect themselves from chilblains.

A stranger came by the village one day, and immediately recognised the potential of the ointment. He offered to buy the formula for 100 gold coins. The villagers were simply amazed at the offer. They toiled for generations washing cotton threads for meagre returns, and now they were to get 100 gold coins by simply telling this stranger the formula of their local ointment. They decided make the deal.

This stranger, having obtained the formula of this magic potion, offered his services to the King of Wu and was appointed as commander in a naval battle with another rival state. The battle raged through the winter and the Wu clan prevailed, mainly because of the ointment that protected its sailors from chilblains! This stranger was, naturally, richly rewarded by the King of Wu.

This is one of the stories in the first chapter of Zhuang Zi, where the ancient philosopher describes the moral that the peace of mind is achieved whenever one can realise that anything will be as good as one can make of it. The same ointment that protected the Song villagers from chilblains was also the key ingredient in a successful military campaign.

From the present-day point of view


The story presents a simple message for me as a security official: effective tools are not necessarily complex and esoteric, and they might be a manifestation of common day methods and custom. Nothing should be taken for granted in the field of security.

Anyone who has worked and lived in Hong Kong would agree that we have traditionally been a safe area with low crime rate, and the risk of a terrorist strike is relatively remote. So far, we have denied terrorists from setting up the necessary network and infrastructure in Hong Kong. With the tradition of religious freedom and mutual respect amongst different ethnic minorities in our society, we are not aware of any radical groupings in our own territory, either. While we pride ourselves on being a free and open society, we are determined to make it as difficult as possible for terrorists to exploit the facilities, freedoms and ease of our systems. The recent bombings of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta is simply a painful reminder of the madness and destruction of terrorism and international crime.

Then, what are we doing in Hong Kong to address these threats to the security of our world?

International Co-operation


First and foremost among the many keys to the puzzle is international co-operation. Attention of governments around the world has rightly been focussed on the physical security of their seaports, airports and the land borders. As the number one container port in the world, Hong Kong was quick to answer the 'Container Security Initiative' proposed by the US. We have also worked closely with organisations such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation in implementing security and safety measures. One of my main reasons of visiting the UK, and in a few days Brussels, is to foster and maintain the necessary mutual trust and understanding so crucial in this era of co-operation.

While terrorism is at the top of the security agenda, governments around the world are also striving to tackle all kinds of cross-border crimes. Crime, just like trade, has become globalised. The vast transactions of monies operating daily through the international financial systems have long been a headache for enforcement agencies targeting criminal proceeds and money-laundering. Hong Kong being one of the major business and financial centres in the world, the HKSAR Government is keenly aware of the need to monitor and curb the flow of terrorist and criminal monies. Indeed, this is the most effective means of getting to the root of their illegal syndicate.

The extent and complexity of globalisation dedicate that success in the fight against cross border crimes requires strong commitments and dedication of all countries and jurisdictions. The international community is safe only if we are able to put in place a law-based control system, maintaining the integrity of control in immigration, customs and trade.

Our systems


On the domestic front, we are building on our existing system of control, based on the rule of law, striving for transparency, fairness and efficiency.

Everything in Hong Kong flows from the "One Country, Two Systems" principle guaranteed under the Basic Law. Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China - and yet we are an independent customs and immigration area separate from the Mainland of China, and we enjoy a high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong maintains its membership with its own voice in many international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, APEC and the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering.

Our advantage hinges on our freedoms - our ports and boundaries are friendly to visitors. Nationals of more than 170 countries and jurisdictions can now visit Hong Kong without the need for a visa. In return, HKSAR passport holders can enjoy visa-free access to more than 130 countries worldwide. In security terms, my challenge is to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of our independent customs and immigration control, and at the same time maximise the ease and convenience for the movement of people and goods.

In addition to being the world's busiest container port and the second largest air cargo hub in the world, our boundary control points between the Mainland of China and the HKSAR are witnessing a daily average of 350,000 passenger and 31,000 vehicular crossings in both directions. We have already experienced peaks approaching half a million passenger crossings per day during popular holiday seasons such as the National Day or Chinese New Year 'Golden Weeks'. Ensuring that such traffic is dealt with in an efficient manner and yet maintaining security integrity is a real challenge. This is particularly so when trade facilitation and market access are equally important parameters in the equation.

On the international front, given our strategic location in Southeast Asia, we are also watchful of passenger and cargo flows through Hong Kong and onwards to other destinations. Obviously we cannot single-handedly manage this task. Again the sharing of intelligence and co-operation with our partners are vital in our management of the risks. We have also relied heavily on the application of technology.

Smartcard technology


The advent of smartcard information technology has enabled us to process and maintain immigration information more effectively - this is an essential link in ensuring the integrity of the immigration system. In Hong Kong, we have begun a programme to replace all the 6.9 million identity cards of our residents with a new smartcard carrying biometric information. To ensure that the personal data stored inside the chips cannot be fraudulently altered or accessed by unauthorised parties, state-of-the-art security features are built into the cards.

For the backend system, i.e. the Smart Identity Card System, it is a secure computer system adopting a combination of advanced security technologies including cryptography, key management, smart card network and storage security, tamper-resistant hardware, mutual authentication and privilege management infrastructure.

Towards the end of the year, we will be introducing Automated Passenger Clearance and Automated Vehicle Clearance Systems by phases. Permanent residents holding smart identity cards can choose to use their cards to go through automated clearance channels without going through the traditional manned counters. This will enable more efficient immigration clearance at the control points and yet the maintenance of all the necessary security controls.

Obviously the issue of protecting personal data privacy has always been on the top of the agenda of the community, the legislature and the HKSAR Government. In our case, the Government has been working closely with all stakeholders to develop a comprehensive data protection strategy for the Smart Identity Card System. We have already issued some 1.5 million smart ID cards, and the public are receiving the exercise in very positive light.

To take the idea further, the ICAO recommended in May this year that future passports should bear contactless chips for storing the holders' biometric data. Electronic facial image would be the mandatory data to be stored in the chips for global interoperability. Fingerprints and the iris data can also be used as additional security features.

In the light of the ICAO's recommendations, many countries and jurisdictions, including Hong Kong, are already carrying out studies on the issue of passports with biometric identifiers. We will obviously look upon our international partners in sharing their findings and experience in implementing such new security features.

Some observations


We can implement an effective security system only if we can garner community understanding and support, through striking a balance between safety and individual freedom and between security and facilitation. I am certain that our friends here would have valuable advice on how such a fine balance could be achieved; take for example the issuance of a mandatory and territory-wide ID card, and the access of personal data by enforcement agencies.

The challenge to a security official is more than the sum total of his domestic considerations, but the clear need to communicate with friends and allies all around the world. Hong Kong has always been, and will remain, a responsible partner.

Many of you who are so familiar with Hong Kong will know, it is the entrepreneurial spirit of the Hong Kong people that makes the city tick with vitality. From my perspective, security lies at the heart of Hong Kong's continued success. It is the cornerstone upon which we guarantee our prosperity and make further progress. It also enables us to carry on with our normal daily lives unhindered and free from interference.

However, security, as with other good things in life like a clean and healthy environment, or a sound medical and health system, cannot be taken for granted. We need to work together to find better solutions. When I began my presentation, I outlined the story of the lucky stranger who struck gold with the discovery of the herbal formula. Perhaps I should end my talk with another observation - that he had indeed been smart in finding the right partners who were willing to share their knowledge and experience. I am sure Hong Kong will continue to benefit from the wise counsel of our international friends.

Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, September 16, 2004


Email this article