SCMA speaks at HKU symposium (English only) (with photos)
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     The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, today (November 12) gave a keynote speech at the Symposium on "The Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on Social Development: Social Policy Responses in Greater China", co-organised by and held at the University of Hong Kong. Following is Mr Lam's speech:

Professor Anthony Yeh, Dr Sandra Tsang, Professor Zhang (Xiulan), Professor (Lillian)Wang, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     I am indeed very honoured to be invited to join you today for your symposium. It is very unique that this year, in 2009, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and at the same time, Sandra, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of social work education at the University of Hong Kong. As far as I am concerned, even though I read social sciences at the University of Hong Kong back in the 1970s, I know something about social work because many of my friends, people like Sandra and Cecilia, read social work. The closest I got to social work is "Introduction to Psychology", first year, in the University. But I think social work is a very important field for Hong Kong, and I warmly welcome the presence of experts in this field in Hong Kong, from Mainland China and from Taiwan.

     Your theme today is about how we face the global economic crisis and how we deal with social development in this particular situation. As far as our perspective among the Government is concerned, the global financial tsunami happened in autumn last year. But we in Hong Kong, and those of you in Taiwan and on the Mainland, on the whole I think we are broadly more fortunate than many other people around the world in different communities.

     Firstly, the governments in all three places have substantive reserves. The banks in these three places have not failed. They have not have to rely on capital injections by the governments to keep their balance sheets balanced. In places like Hong Kong, the Government has been able to guarantee all savings accounts in banks. That provides a very good foundation for public confidence.

     Secondly, because we have these resources to deal with the situation, in Hong Kong we have been able to promote employment, we have been able to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to weather this financial crisis. On the part of the Government, we worked very hard in the course of last year to create more employment through promoting infrastructure projects. Some of these are very long term like building a bridge to Zhuhai and Macao, like preparing for a high-speed railway to Guangzhou - in future it will take just 48 minutes to go from the West Kowloon terminus to Guangzhou City. But we also promote the rolling out of minor projects like the maintenance of many public facilities so that the lower-level construction companies and their workers would have something to do. This year, during the summer vacation, knowing that our fresh graduates would have difficulty finding jobs within Hong Kong, we arranged for some of them to be interns with Hong Kong companies and Mainland companies in Shanghai, in Beijing and in other Mainland cities. So, with all these initiatives we have been able to keep unemployment at about 5.4%. And we hope it levels off roughly at this level and gradually we would bring the level of unemployment down. The SMEs have much appreciated what we have provided in the form of loan guarantees with banks. This scheme, which commits the Government to about HK$100 billion, has been extended. Collectively, we have to come together to weather this financial tsunami.

     Finally, I would just like to share with you that back in June, we went to the Mainland for this year's Pan-Pearl River Delta Forum. The governors of eight provinces on the Mainland told us back then that for 2009, they would have a great degree of confidence in being able to maintain growth at 8%. So I said that this would be relatively good news for Hong Kong because this would mean that the investments by Hong Kong on the Mainland will generate a healthy return and with that sort of return, we would be able to maintain a certain degree of economic prosperity and employment in Hong Kong.

     So, this brief introduction to how we in Hong Kong, and how we see those in Taiwan and the Mainland, have responded through public offices to this financial crisis, I think is important. But let me come back closer to home, to Hong Kong, on how I see our social work agencies and social services have developed over the years.

     I think in Hong Kong, we have a very unique form of provision of social services. Particularly since the end of World War II, a vast array of NGOs and what we called voluntary agencies in Hong Kong have sprung up. These voluntary agencies are established to provide social services entirely for charitable ends. As Hong Kong progressed and became more prosperous in the last 60 years, we, in the Government have been able to provide more substantial resources and subvention to these voluntary agencies in providing medical, social and education services.

     Now, here in Hong Kong, we have various social safety nets. We provide public housing - subsidised housing - for about 50% of our households. Our public hospitals look after about 80% of hospitalisation cases at highly subsidised rates. We provide 12 years' free education at primary and secondary levels. Our young people of the relevant age group can take tertiary education - diplomas, associate degrees and university degrees. Sixty per cent of them in the relevant age group can do so. Also, over the years, we have provided what we called Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme in Hong Kong to help families in need. For example, to support those who are unemployed for the time being, families which are widowed and children which have no means to look after themselves. Our Social Security Allowance Scheme also helps to look after those who are severely disabled and those who are elderly. This is the sort of society which we are proud of creating in Hong Kong - that we can provide these social safety nets.

     I still recall that when I first joined the Government in the late 1970s, the then Chief Secretary, Sir Jack Cater, in meeting us then young Administrative Officers, said, "nobody need starve in Hong Kong, nobody need to go without a roof over their heads in Hong Kong". This is the philosophy which has guided Hong Kong's social development over the years. But we always want to do better. We always want to provide better services and guarantees for the people of Hong Kong. That is the backdrop of Hong Kong's social community services.

     But I would like to move on to share with you how we in Hong Kong develop our relation with the Mainland and with Taiwan, and how I see some broad directions for dealing with collaboration between the three places in terms of social work and services development.

Co-operation between Hong Kong and the Mainland
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     In the last 30 years or so, we have all witnessed an opening up of Mainland China since the introduction of the Four Modernisations and the open-door policy on the Mainland in 1978. And much progress has been made in the last 30 years, China is now a key player in the global arena. We in Hong Kong have participated very fully in that opening up process. Since 1978, we have created many enterprises on the Mainland. We have relocated our manufacturing industry largely to the southern provinces, and in the process Hong Kong has been transformed reasonably smoothly into a service-oriented economy. And since the Reunification in 1997, we have created more room for development on the Mainland. In 2003, we signed what we called the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) with Beijing. It is a free trade agreement. We have been able to do so because the Basic Law of Hong Kong allows Hong Kong to remain as a member in our own right of the WTO as "Hong Kong, China". After Beijing joined the WTO in 2001, we could negotiate and conclude this arrangement as distinct members of the WTO.

     There are a few salient facts that I would like to quote:

* Hong Kong is the largest external investor on the Mainland. We accounted for more than US$370 billion as at end-August 2009. The Mainland is also the largest source of Hong Kong's inward direct investment. These enterprises accounted for US$480 billion as at end-2007.

* The second salient point is that Hong Kong plays an important role in the opening up of the Mainland economy. For example, I think Hong Kong will continue to play a key role in the internationalisation of the Renminbi. As of now, Hong Kong is the only place outside of the Mainland where you can find a Renminbi bond market and where you can settle trade in Renminbi.

* Thirdly, the Hong Kong stock market is an important centre for Mainland enterprises to raise capital and to gain exposure to the international business environment. As at end-September 2009, there were more than 480 Mainland enterprises listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Together, they represented an equity of about US$300 billion. Mainland enterprises also have a very strong presence in Hong Kong. There are more than 220 regional headquarters and more than 520 regional offices.

Sichuan reconstruction
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     But I would like to emphasise that our relation with the Mainland does not stop with trade and economics. A very important example is Hong Kong's involvement in the reconstruction of Sichuan after the earthquake which traumatised Sichuan and the world in May last year. This happened in May last year, but after the financial tsunami in September last year, the enthusiasm, the concern and the readiness to participate in the Sichuan reconstruction on the part of Hong Kong never stop. We in Hong Kong want to do something to help Sichuan heal its wounds from the earthquake. The death toll amounted to about 69,000; those injured 370,000; about 18,000 people missing; and millions homeless. Post-quake reconstruction is a colossal but important task.

     I have been to Sichuan many times. Every time I went there, I was impressed, particularly by the people of Sichuan. On their faces, they show hope. It is very much unlike the pictures which we see on CNN or international magazines about refugees in camps around the world. I think the people of Sichuan realise that there are many people who want to help them rebuild their lives. There are those on the Mainland, there are those in Taiwan, and there are those in Hong Kong and Macao. And the speed at which governmental and voluntary agencies' efforts have come to fruition, have been able to look after them since last year, is a mark of distinction. Having to build homes for millions of people within a short span of time is not easy. Here in Hong Kong, we have been able to garner this readiness to help on the part of both the public and private sectors. The Legislative Council provided funding of HK$9 billion and the Hong Kong Jockey Club provided funding of HK$1 billion. Donations from individual Hong Kong people have continued to come in. Collectively, we can now sponsor 152 projects of reconstruction in Sichuan, encompassing medical, educational, social services, highways and the panda reserve in Wolong.
   
     Aside from these inter-governmental projects, there are also 30 projects which NGOs in Hong Kong have proposed and which we have approved and supported. This is hardware, but we want to emphasise that the reconstruction of Sichuan and Hong Kong's participation therein is not just on hardware. On hardware, we need to try to finish these 152 projects within two to three years. I think on the whole we can do that for schools, clinics and social service centres. The highways - there are two highways which we are sponsoring - will take a slightly longer time, and the reconstruction of the Wolong panda reserve may take a bit more time. But aside from hardware, we also emphasise on software, because Hong Kong, I think, is very fortunate to have very international, high-quality software professional services - in the medical, social, educational and other fields. Your presence here today is strong evidence of that software capability. One notable example of our software capability is the "Sichuan Hong Kong Rehabilitation Centre". This is a core rehabilitation centre at the provincial level. We will have this centre in Chengdu. But this centre will network with other rehabilitation centres in 39 counties throughout Sichuan. We want to "train the trainers", so that there will be other people who will look after these victims after they have returned from Chengdu to their counties.

     Another example is the audio-visual networking system which we are establishing in the "Huaxi Hospital Distance Medical Network Platform". This platform will link up with more than 280 local hospitals, health care centres and rehabilitation services centres throughout Sichuan.

     To give you a more visual understanding of what we are doing in Sichuan, I have brought a few photos today.

     Photo 1: This is the Baita Secondary School. It is one of the schools financed by the Hong Kong Government.

     Photo 2: This is the Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Service Centre organised by the Hong Kong Red Cross and Disabled Person's Association in Sichuan. This centre is the first-of-its-kind on the Mainland. It provides free prosthetic and rehabilitation services. This Red Cross facility is actually not financed by the Hong Kong Government, but supported by donations made by the Hong Kong community.

     Photo 3: This picture shows some people receiving rehabilitation treatment provided by an NGO project called "Stand Tall"]_ӡ^. This is a rehabilitation centre dedicated to those injured in the earthquake. This is a disabled person riding a bicycle. I actually saw this in Chengdu.

     Photo 4: This is a photo exhibition held some months ago. This picture shows some of the participants of the "Stand Tall" project visiting Hong Kong then.

     Photo 5: This final photograph is the pandas. This is the Wolong Reserve. This is a major collection of more than 20 projects which we are supporting and sponsoring in Wolong to ensure that the pandas continued to be well-looked after, and that the work on research and protecting this species will continue in the best possible circumstances.

Social services under CEPA
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     I have spent some time talking about Sichuan, because this is a live initiative. It goes to show what we can do jointly and together. But I also mentioned earlier about CEPA - the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement. This is not just a free trade agreement about trade and about professional services focused on international finance. Actually under CEPA, "social services" is one of the 42 service areas where Hong Kong service providers can enjoy preferential treatment in the Mainland. Previously, Hong Kong service suppliers could only register as private enterprises. They could only operate on a wholly-owned basis in the Mainland. Now, under CEPA, they are entitled to the preferential treatment provided by Guangdong. In future, they can operate in Guangdong, on a pilot basis, elderly service agencies and rehabilitation service agencies in the form of wholly-owned private non-governmental enterprises. These services can be arranged. But I should add that these are still early days for this particular provision. It is just starting and it will take time for this to have impact.

Collaboration with Taiwan
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     So much about the Mainland. With the presence of Professor Wang and our friends from Taiwan, I would like to say something about how Hong Kong is developing our relation with Taiwan.

     For many years, we dealt with Taiwan at arm's length. Pretty "cool". Those of us in Hong Kong, on the Mainland and in Taiwan know the historical context for that cool relationship. But history does not stop at one particular point. History always rolls on. So in 2005, the Chief Executive actually asked me to receive the Chairman of the Kuomintang at that time, Mr Lien Chan, at the Chek Lap Kok International Airport while his was making his historic visit to the Mainland. That visit - we can all still visualise - the historic handshake between Chairman Lien and Secretary-General Hu in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2005. That marked a watershed and the turning of a new page in cross-strait relations. Also, the election in Taiwan in 2008 provided very favourable conditions for cross-strait relations to be elevated, and eventually the "Three Direct Links" was established.

     For us in Hong Kong, we have always known that Taiwan is a very important trading partner. It is our fifth largest trading partner. Every year, about 2.2 million visitors come to Hong Kong from Taiwan. Our bilateral trade amounts to US$32 billion.

     We in Hong Kong have seized that opportunity unveiled a few years ago through this historic visit to build better and stronger relations with Taiwan. In October last year, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council established an office in Taipei. This was the first time that a statutory body established such a presence in Taiwan.

     Also, in April this year, we initiated the "Hong Kong-Taiwan Inter-City Forum" with Taichung City. Mayor Jason Hu, a good friend of mine, brought a delegation of more than 100 people from Taichung - the strongest, largest-ever official delegation to come from Taiwan. They will reciprocate - they will invite us to Taichung next year.

     In June, I also visited Taipei. I held talks with our counterparts in the Mainland Affairs Council. We agreed on the principle of establishing bilateral business economic co-operation committees in Hong Kong and in Taiwan, so that at enterprise level, we can co-operate.

     But we always want to continue to roll forward our relations. So, in the Policy Address announced by the Chief Executive in October this year, we also put forth a few new ideas and initiatives.

     Firstly, we will establish the Hong Kong-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council in Hong Kong. This will be a multi-faceted exchange forum. While the Council is not going to be a governmental entity, senior officials from our Administration will take part in the Council's work in an appropriate capacity, for example, as directors of the Council. We will also provide resources to the Council to enable it to roll out its work programme.

     This Co-operation Council in Hong Kong will interact with the Taiwan-Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Co-operation Council to be established by the Taiwan side. In future, these two entities will come together and facilitate exchanges in areas of public policies, because our Taiwanese counterparts have also told us that their senior officials will take part in their Council's work in an appropriate capacity. This is the first initiative.

     Secondly, the Chief Executive also announced that we will consider setting up a multi-functional office in Taiwan at an appropriate time and in an appropriate form.

     These initiatives have been welcomed by our counterparts in Taiwan. So, I think, the future is going to be very hopeful. We will be able to exchange views and transact business, both at public policy level and at private enterprise level.

     As the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, we will also continue to roll out our programme of sponsoring NGOs to conduct seminars and exchange visits between Hong Kong and Taiwan. These days, youth groups from the Mainland and Taiwan come through Hong Kong all the time. Every summer, I and my colleagues receive hundreds of these young people. It is pretty good. Now even though I am not a social worker or a social work professor, I have tried to provide you with the wide policy backdrop and co-operation initiatives between Hong Kong-Mainland and Hong Kong-Taiwan.

Conclusion
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     In conclusion, I would like to put forth a few thoughts for your consideration.

     Firstly, I think in Hong Kong we are very privileged to have the presence of such a vast array of voluntary agencies and NGOs. In past decades, they had provided very valuable medical, educational and social services to the people of Hong Kong. I think this model of co-operation between the Government and the NGO sector may be particularly relevant to the Mainland. As the Mainland economy continues to open up and gains further momentum in becoming more prosperous, I think it is important for us to harness both the public and private sector resources and capabilities to help us all look after those who are less privileged in the Mainland. We in Hong Kong should continue to do what we can on that front and in that regard.

     Secondly, for many years, I have always thought that those of us in Hong Kong and those of you in Taiwan have a lot in common. Hong Kong and Taiwan are both very free and open societies. Sometimes your legislature may be even more boisterous than ours in Hong Kong. But many of our professionals, including social workers and professors, have been trained overseas. Now that the "coolness" of the relationship is receding, we can have a warmer future to look forward to. I think we can do much more together. I think through the platforms which we are building to enable public and private sector exchanges to be rolled out, we can co-operate not just in the economic field but also in the social services and public administration fields in future.

     Finally, in this era of globalisation, we always talk about free trade. That is a good thing, but I think we should not stop there. As mutual trust continues to grow across the Taiwan Strait, my hope very much is that the interflow of people and ideas will also grow, for therein lies the secret of social advancement.

     And that is why, Sandra, I warmly welcome the hosting of this symposium today to mark the 60th anniversary of social work education in HKU. This is a very memorable occasion, I think, for those of us who had the benefit of being educated at the University of Hong Kong, in social sciences, social work and other spheres. I really thank all of you very much, for coming specially from the Mainland and from Taiwan to help us turn this idea into reality. I very much hope that in the years to come, there will be many more of these events and the gatherings will truly be able to contribute to the cumulative value of academic research and the provision of social services in all three places. Thank you very much.

Ends/Thursday, November 12, 2009
Issued at HKT 17:32

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