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SCED's speech at Hong Kong Festival 2012: Gala Dinner in Celebration of 15th Anniversary of Establishment of HKSAR (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Hong Kong Festival 2012: Gala Dinner in Celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region today (October 30) in Singapore:

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     I am delighted to join you all this evening. Welcome to this Gala Dinner.

     I am very pleased to see so many friends of Hong Kong here in the Lion City.

     The synergetic relationship between Hong Kong and Singapore is one of the great stories of our region's development.  The wonderful thing about our shared competitive spirit is that it inspires us to do better - to work smarter, to innovate further and to live and work in a great place we call home.

     With this in mind, it is appropriate for Hong Kong to share the joy of our 15th anniversary as a Special Administrative Region of China with our friends here in Singapore.

     The theme of tonight's entertainment is "East meets West". This theme resonates with both Hong Kong and Singapore íV it is evident in our culture, in our cuisine, in our communities, in our classrooms and in our business districts.

     Hong Kong and Singapore thrive on a diversity of ideas, good governance, and international perspective.

     Since Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, we have preserved our city's unique advantages and perspectives under the principle of "One Country, Two Systems". This is a significant achievement considering the enormous social, legal and political change Hong Kong has experienced since 1997.

     We have also overcome unprecedented challenges, including two major financial crises, deadly health scares such as SARS and avian flu and the bursting of the bubble at the turn of the century. All of these had a major impact on our economy.

     With each setback, some naysayers have questioned Hong Kong's ability. Yet, each time, thanks to the tenacity of our people, sound economic fundamentals, and the confidence of our friends around the world, including here in Singapore, our city has bounced back and become stronger, more competitive and more resilient. To borrow the words of a George Benson song, we "never give up on a good thing".

     On July 1, we ushered in the fourth term HKSAR Government led by our new Chief Executive, Mr C Y Leung. This administration is committed to improving the lives of our people and the prosperity of our city.

     Importantly for us, after 15 years as a Special Administrative Region of China, there remains an unshakable commitment to the principle of "One Country, Two Systems". This concept continues to provide a "win-win" for our city and our nation. I should also mention that "One Country, Two Systems" is enshrined in the Central Government's National 12th Five-year Plan as key to Hong Kong's role in our nation's rapid development.

     As "One Country", Hong Kong has become far more closely integrated with Mainland China over the past 15 years. We have welcomed more Mainland visitors, Mainland students and Mainland companies to Hong Kong. We have made exponential strides in breaking down cross-boundary trade barriers. This is good for Hong Kong, good for the Mainland and good for our international trading partners.

     Consider this. In 1997, the value of bilateral trade between Hong Kong and the Mainland was just over HK$1.1 trillion (US$144 billion). Last year, our bilateral trade exceeded HK$3.4 trillion (US$442.5 billion). Today, we are the Mainland's third largest trading partner and single largest source of direct investment into the Mainland. I also note that our bilateral trade with Singapore has increased almost three-fold over the past 15 years, rising from HK$117 billion (US$15 billion) in 1997 to over HK$310 billion (US$40 billion) last year.

     At the same time, the "Two Systems" part of "One Country, Two Systems" has helped to preserve Hong Kong's much cherished advantages, and personal and economic freedoms. Among other things, Hong Kong has continued to be ranked as the world's freest economy by both the Heritage Foundation in the United States and the Canada-based Fraser Institute for the past 18 years. Of course, Singapore is a very close second.

     With a separate system from the Mainland, Hong Kong people continue to run Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy in virtually all areas of our city's administration. Two noteworthy exceptions are, understandably, defence and foreign affairs.

     We maintain our own common law legal system underpinned by an independent judiciary. We have our own low and simple tax system. We continue to enjoy individual membership of international bodies, including the World Trade Organisation, World Customs Organisation and APEC just to name a few. We also relished the moment at this summer's London Olympics when Hong Kong's Bauhinia Flag was raised in recognition of our cyclist, Lee Wai-sze, winning an Olympic bronze medal. Singaporeans enjoyed a similar thrill in the Olympic table tennis competition.  

     While our close and mutually beneficial relationship with the Mainland has undoubtedly driven Hong Kong's development as a Special Administrative Region, we also have our international partners, including Singapore, to thank for their continued confidence in our city.

     Ladies and gentlemen, during important anniversaries such as this, it is often tempting to set goals or try to predict the future. I do not intend to tempt fate by making any detailed forecasts for Hong Kong in the years ahead. In today's unpredictable global economic environment, many of us would be hard pressed to accurately predict the next few weeks, let alone years!

     However, I do fully expect that Hong Kong and Singapore will continue to lead the way for our region's growth and development. No doubt our two cities will continue to compete toe-to-toe as international business and financial centres with a high degree of economic freedom. And I am fairly confident that we all agree both Singapore and Hong Kong offer some of the best food and hospitality in the world.

     I hope you all enjoy the Hong Kong Festival 2012 and tonight's Gala Dinner. I look forward to healthy competition and enduring friendship between Hong Kong and Singapore for many years to come.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Issued at HKT 20:29


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