The following is the transcript (English only) of a press briefing by the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, in Seoul, Korea today (Wednesday):
Chief Executive: Thank you all very much for coming. It's been a very short visit to Seoul but a very important visit for me and for my delegation. I had an opportunity to meet President Kim Dae-jung. I also had the opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Hong and meet with a wide cross-section of the private sector in business, in commerce. I think the exchange of views all across the board has been very, very helpful.
We exchanged views about the financial turmoil and the lessons we all learned from it and how we can collaborate more in the future in the financial sector. We also had the opportunity to highlight the new opportunities that will be presented to all of us with China's accession to the WTO and what role Hong Kong can play, particularly in helping Korean business in accessing the Chinese mainland market. You know that Korea is Hong Kong's seventh largest trading partner and we are Korea's fourth largest trading partner. We have a very important trading relationship. There was a Hong Kong-Korea Roundtable get-together of all the business people from both sides and I was able to participate in that and it was a very useful discussion, creating lots of new opportunities for business. So all in all, a very useful trip, rather too short but very, very good.
Reporter: This morning you visited President Kim. I would like to know whether there were any concrete measures taken, or whether you signed any contracts. My second question concerns the number of flights between Hong Kong and Seoul. To my knowledge there are 53 flights a week. Are there any talks going on and do you have any plans to extend the number of flights between the two cities.
Chief Executive: I had a very useful and constructive discussion with the President. The purpose of the visit was not to reach any specific agreements but really to exchange views on a whole range of issues, as I said, including issues such as sharing experiences of the financial turmoil, thinking of how in the future we can work closer together to avoid this sort of experience again. We also discussed about the way in which Hong Kong and Korea can co-operate further in the financial, economic and commercial side. So it was a very useful and enlightening discussion for me, particularly in light of the fact that after some difficult times Korea is rebounding so strongly on the economic front. So it was a very good time for us to share experiences. As you know Hong Kong is also rebounding from our difficulties. The purpose was not to sign any specific agreements.
With regards to the flights between Korea and Hong Kong, there have been comments made during my visit to Korea that the flights need to be kept in line with the market capacity, in line with demand - the capacity kept in line with demand - and I'm sure the two governments and the airlines will be in close co-operation to ensure that there will be sufficient capacity available.
Reporter: My question to you is, is there a special reason to the timing of your visit, with the Macau handover coming . . .
Chief Executive: No, it was not meant to be anything special. I wanted to visit, at the invitation of your government, I wanted to do it as early as possible and this was a very appropriate time for myself, and also for the President and for the Foreign Minister. But what is important, what is interesting, is that it so happens that it comes at a time when the Korean economy is rebounding and Hong Kong is also coming out of the bottom. And also coming at a time when there is every likelihood now that China will become a part of the WTO. So it was very good timing purely by, well not by design it happened that way, so therefore it made the discussions all the more interesting.
Reporter: in Chinese.
Information Co-ordinator, Mr Stephen Lam: For the benefit of those who do not speak Chinese I will repeat the question and answer by Mr Tung. It was a question about information technology development in Hong Kong and whether Korean businessmen had expressed any interests in co-operating with Hong Kong in this particular sphere.
The Chief Executive's response was that we had not come here specifically to reach any agreements but through our various meetings with the business community here we have met a number of businessmen who have expressed such interest and indeed this afternoon, when we were with the Korean Federation of Industry, one company made a very specific request to seek a potential partnership with a Hong Kong company so they could develop their IT work more and develop their market potential in Mainland China.
Reporter: You have announced that you will open more business channels between Hong Kong and Korea and you also announced plans to open a Disneyland in Hong Kong. Pertaining to all these factors, do you have a vision for the 21st Century?
Chief Executive: Yes, I do have a vision for the 21st Century for Hong Kong. Hong Kong will be one of the most important cities of China. In time Hong Kong will be the most cosmopolitan city of Asia. Hong Kong will play a role like New York does for North America, like London is for Europe. So shall Hong Kong play the role for Asia in the same way.
Reporter: According to reports, Hong Kong will make lots of investments in the IT industry and the IT industry will be the focus of development. But some are saying that Hong Kong is lagging behind other cities such as Shenzhen or Guangzhou and concerning the relationships that exist between the cities what will be the advantages and disadvantages of Hong Kong.
Chief Executive: Hong Kong's economic development is on many fronts. We are a leading financial centre in Asia. We are a centre for tourism. There are more visitors to Hong Kong than any other Asian city. We have about 10 million visitors every year and hopefully with Disneyland this will grow even more, and hopefully we can get more Korean people to visit us in Hong Kong. We are a centre for multi-national companies who use Hong Kong as their headquarters. There are 1200 companies who use Hong Kong either as a regional office or as an Asia-Pacific headquarters. We are a centre for trade and commerce. We have one of the largest container ports in the world and our cargo through the airport, air cargo, is one of the largest in the world. So we have many, many economic activities.
Yes, we are going to make information technology another economic driver as we move into the future. This is important to us in Hong Kong for many different reasons. One of the reasons is that because through information technology, e-commerce and the Internet we can make our economy more efficient. And this is very important to us to make our economy more efficient. Secondly, information technology itself is a very important business activity and in Hong Kong information technology is moving very fast forward. We are moving to become a telecommunications centre in Asia, which is a very important part of information technology. We have done this through deliberate government actions to deregulate our telecommunications industry. Financially, the government has made available, is making available, over US$100 million in a venture capital fund to encourage people to start new ventures. We are also making available HK$5 billion to encourage mid-stream research, to turn research into commercial products. So in the areas of information technology, or innovation and technology, we are doing a whole lot of things. We are confident we will do very well. Our internet penetration as a percentage of population is very high in Hong Kong, it is very widely used. Of course Shenzhen and Guangzhou are also doing very well, particularly in the manufacturing sector of PCs and so on and so forth. But we are doing different things which are very complementary to each other.
Reporter: Can you sum up your observations during this visit and on what aspects that Hong Kong and South Korea can co-operate with each other?
Chief Executive: I think Hong Kong and Korea have a long tradition of co-operation. One area of co-operation is tourism, where over 200,000 tourists from Korea visited Hong Kong so far this year and over 300,000 of Hong Kong [people] visited Korea [in 1998]. Tourist exchanges are not just a question of tourism. It's a question of increasing mutual understanding and promoting friendship and I would strongly suggest that both sides could do more and we both have committed to do more. Hong Kong is a very beautiful city and a very vibrant city and it's a city that if you come and visit you would not regret it.
Hong Kong is Korea's seventh largest trading partner and for Korea, Hong Kong is fourth. And I think the important thing there is that there are a lot of trading opportunities for both sides and we need to work a lot harder on this to do even better than before.
While I was here, Hong Kong ship owners ordered three big ships from the Daewoo shipyard and over the past 10 years Hong Kong ship owners have placed orders for 75 new ships, with a contract price of about US$3.5 billion. These are areas where there can be even better, even more co-operation.
China's accession to the WTO - there will be lots of opportunities for Korean companies to come to Hong Kong and to use Hong Kong as a base to enter the Mainland Chinese market. And so the list goes on and on. I can sit here all day and talk to you about it but I think I'm running out of time, unless you want me to miss the airplane! (laughter).
Ends/Wednesday, December 8, 1999