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CE delivers Hong Kong Letter


Following is the full text (translation) of the "Hong Kong Letter" delivered by the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, on RTHK-1 this morning (January 10):

Dear Citizens,

First of all, I would like to send my early wishes to you all for a Prosperous and Happy Chinese New Year!

I write this letter with mixed feelings. The extraordinary calendar year just ended was one of severe trials for Hong Kong, one of much soul-searching for the Government, and one in which the tenacious, rational and peace-loving nature of our fellow citizens was amply demonstrated. As bliss comes out of the depth of misfortune, I believe Hong Kong has transcended the worst of its difficulties.

It is evident that economy has rebounded -- both unemployment and deflation are trending downward. We owe all of this to the staunch support of the Central Government, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy and the concerted efforts of the whole community. I am as gratified as all of you are to see Hong Kong emerging from its doldrums. As a new year comes round and everything looks fresh and gay, I expect the next two years will have much better things in store. As far as our mid-term and long-term prospects are concerned, the rapid economic growth in China will surely benefit Hong Kong.

Last Wednesday in the Legislative Council, I delivered my 7th Policy Address, entitled "Seizing Opportunities for Development, Promoting People-based Governance". The theme that I stressed was the need to work with everybody, according to the broad directions endorsed by the community, to continue the restructuring and revival of the economy. And I said that while allowing the community to take a respite and build up its strength, we also needed to promote comprehensive community development, to get closer to the people, to improve governance and to properly plan political arrangements for the future.

I elaborated in my address on three major issues that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government will have to address properly in the coming year: first, how to sustain economic recovery; second, how to stay close to the community and ensure social stability; and third, how to improve governance.

In discussing the question of economic revival, I set forth my thoughts on our well-recognised and well-proven strategic direction - that of leveraging on the Mainland, engaging ourselves globally, capitalising on our advantages, strengthening our core industries, deploying new knowledge and new technologies and moving up the value chain.

In reviving the economy, there are eight areas of focus:

* leveraging on the unique advantages represented by "One country, two systems" and our proximity to the Mainland, strengthening our co-operation with Guangdong and Shanghai, implementing CEPA;

* making continuous improvements to the business environment;

* facilitating the development and expansion of our core industries -- financial services, producer services, logistics and tourism;

* promoting new and high-tech industries, creative industries, the education and health care industries and urban renewal;

* supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, especially those individually owned businesses being set up in the Mainland;

* keeping in step with professional developments to help our professional services providers establish new business platforms in the Mainland under CEPA;

* alleviating deflation to enhance our competitiveness; and

*postponing the elimination of the fiscal deficit to a more suitable time so as to give the community the chance to catch its breath and restore its strength.

The second theme of my Policy Address is the need to pay close attention to people's livelihood and to strive for social stability. At the same time as it does this, the Government needs to face up to the challenges brought about by globalisation, economic restructuring, and a range of issues such as asset depreciation, prolonged deflation and falling wages.

The Government will formulate strategies in response to these challenges along three fronts: education, promoting employment and training, and enhancing social capital. We maintain that every dollar spent on education is not consumption but investment. We will continue to allocate resources to the development of tertiary education and to raise the proportion of secondary school graduates who go on to higher education. In primary and secondary education, we are firmly committed to education reforms and we will strengthen communication with school principals, teachers, parents, students and the community at large to better explain the rationale behind our policies.

In its report published last year, the Education Commission proposed changing the academic structure to three-year junior secondary, three-year senior secondary and four-year university. The Government has accepted this direction in principle and will consult the public on the academic structure which these changes imply.

We will strengthen both training and retraining. Graduates of Vocational Training Council pre-vocational courses and Employees Retraining Board full-time courses achieved an average employment rate of 80%. Despite declining unemployment and the improvement of the labour market, we have still decided to set aside about $1.2 billion to sustain 11,000 temporary jobs.

As for social capital, we will care for the rights of the disadvantaged and help them to improve their economic situation by sharing the opportunities arising from social progress.

The third major theme of the Policy Address is the need to improve governance. How are we going to achieve that? The answer lies in three areas: first, by raising the level of policy-making capability; second, by improving communication with people of different backgrounds and sectors; and third, by allowing for greater participation by people of all walks of life in the formulation of public policies. In other words, the SAR Government is committed to a closer adherence to community sentiments and public needs, and to a more proactive response to the voice of our citizenry. In future, our governance shall be people-based.

Concrete measures to improve governance include enhancing the Principal Officials' accountability system, improving the quality of our policies, strengthening the advisory mechanism, better capturing public sentiment and hearing the views of people in the districts, greater emphasis on dialogue with the middle class, and further efforts to facilitate women's participation in socio-political affairs.

Finally, allow me to again say a few words on issues relating to our constitutional development, which are of great concern to the community.

The SAR Government fully understands the aspirations of the people and will seriously and properly handle all matters relating to the constitutional review in strict accordance with the Basic Law. The Central Government is seriously concerned about the development of Hong Kong's political structure. The SAR Government considers that to make proper arrangements for the constitutional review, we must first achieve a clear understanding of the important issues of principle and law which the process implies. As you know, I have commissioned a Task Force, headed by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, and including the Secretary for Justice, Ms Elsie Leung, and the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, to seriously examine these issues, in particular those concerning the understanding of the relevant provisions of the Basic Law, and to consult relevant authorities of the Central Government.

The Government also encourages all sectors of the community in Hong Kong to continue considering and exploring these issues rationally and to express their views, so that the relevant arrangements may be made as soon as possible. The Task Force will begin work quickly.

In closing, I am reminded of the phrase, "Walking together with you". Hong Kong has been on a most difficult journey of late, and some rough stretches may still lie ahead. But as long as the community is with us, we shall pass through.

Ends/Saturday, January 10, 2004


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