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Speech by FS at Hong Kong Trade Development Council Annual Dinner, Hong Kong Dinner, in London (English only) (with photo)

     Following is the speech by the Financial Secretary, Mr John C Tsang, at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council Annual Dinner, Hong Kong Dinner, in London tonight (October 30, London time):

Jack, Lord Livingston, My Lords, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good evening.

     I am delighted to be here with you again, two years in a row, on this grand occasion, the Hong Kong TDC (Trade Development Council)'s annual dinner in London.

     Speaking of the TDC, it's always a pleasure for me to hear Jack and to see Jack in action. Jack has been at the helm of this distinguished institution for as long as I have been the Financial Secretary since 2007. He has done a tremendous job promoting and putting Hong Kong on the map of providers and subscribers of goods and services in all the markets of the world.

     It seems that the TDC Chairman clearly subscribes to Oscar Wilde's take on London as well as dinner. The witty Mr Wilde once said: "The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world." So Jack, you're on your way. Spearheading our airport, which connects Hong Kong to the rest of the world, will naturally be the best stop for you to move next, once you have completed your extended term at the TDC.

     I'm also well on my way through this unprecedented, unexpected European spree. It came as a rather pleasant surprise to me on my return late last week from the APEC Finance Ministers' Meeting in Beijing. Our Chief Executive told me he needed to remain in Hong Kong this week to deal with some of the issues at hand, and that I should take his place on this European tour.

     The programme CY had set for himself and the Hong Kong business delegation has been hectic, to say the least. But having gone through half of it now, the past few days have actually been quite exciting and gratifying, though long and tightly packed.

     Just two days ago, as Jack has mentioned, I was at the opening of "Think Asia, Think Hong Kong" in Paris and meeting with French ministers in the capital. This morning, I was in Milan for the opening there of "Think Asia, Think Hong Kong." Inaugural dinners were also held, and very well attended and very well received, in both cities.

     Of course, the first "Think Asia, Think Hong Kong" took place right here in London, three years ago. It was a remarkable success as some of you here will remember. Indeed, it set in motion what is now the TDC's signature overseas promotion event.

     Hong Kong's bilateral traditions, it seems, generally begin right here, in London. Eventually, these traditions find their way to the rest of the world. Not surprising, of course. Our ties are historic, our business closely intertwined, and our personal relations deep - and deeply valued.

     And that is why I feel comfortable in telling you, here, very frankly, that we in Hong Kong have known better weeks. As you are undoubtedly aware, the city, the Government and the people of Hong Kong have been preoccupied, and perhaps, more accurately, occupied, for four weeks now.

     But I must set the record straight. That was not quite what I envisaged last year when I spoke on this very occasion. I said then that, Hong Kong was akin to TARDIS, Doctor Who's time machine. If you remember that. On the outside it looks small, but once you get inside... you never quite know what will happen next, other than it's bound to be exciting! And exciting it certainly has been.

     Of course, some people might say it's the first time this Financial Secretary gets even close to predicting correctly anything in the future, citing the many occasions that I have got my budget estimates wrong. But certainly pup tents, shower stalls and sleepovers on the passing lanes of Hong Kong were not part of my crystal ball views back then.

     The current protest centres on the election of the Chief Executive in 2017. The big issue is how candidates should be nominated for election by the five million Hong Kong people who will be able to vote - most of them for the first time. Indeed, in three years' time, Hong Kong could elect directly its own municipality head. In accordance with the Basic Law, as well as the decisions of the Standing Committee of the National's People Congress. This is a clear and strong evidence of the successful implementation of the "One country and two systems" principle. The significance of that political milestone must not be lost in the continuing dispute.

     In any case, let me assure you that we fully understand the expressed wishes of the protesters. But I hope you do appreciate that many others in the community do not share their views. We are doing our best to bridge the divide. We are working hard to create a consensus based on the Basic Law, our constitution. And we believe that a way forward will be found, based on the decency and mutual respect that have long governed Hong Kong - and long shaped the values of the people of Hong Kong.

     Let me end this political note by making clear that there's no truth to the rumour that we brought an individual by the name of Kenneth Bruce Gorelick - better known as Kenny G - to Hong Kong last week to have him perform for the demonstrators. That is completely fallacious. As some of you may be aware, Mr G's wordless tune, "Going Home", is something of an end-of-evening anthem played nightly in elevators, shopping malls, train stations and other public areas, and it gently reminds people that it's time to - well, go home. But actually, the song we hoped that he might play was "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" Unfortunately, Kenny G's powers of persuasion don't extend to the elements.

     That, I hope, brings you all up to date on the Hong Kong weather, including our political rain. But given the intensity of the media focus on Hong Kong, allow me now to note some of the latest developments that will give rise to a better Hong Kong - the plans that will help shape our future.

     Connectivity is central to the future of Hong Kong, a small city located on the edge of a huge continent. Internally, we enjoy one of the world's most efficient public mass transport systems. Just this past April, Hong Kong was ranked number one in the world in the Urban Mobility Index compiled by the management consultancy firm, Arthur D Little.

     Our public transport system accommodates about 12 million passenger trips a day. Railways account for about 40 per cent of Hong Kong's daily public transport travel. And it may well have grown to more than 50 per cent over the last few weeks!

     Five major railway projects are now under construction right now. When completed, in about six years' time, our rail network will cover a catchment area reaching more than 70 per cent of our total population.

     Lantau Island is home to the Hong Kong International Airport, as you all know, one of the world's best and busiest airports. It's just five hours' flight time from half the world's population. Indeed, it will soon run out of runway capacity, which is why a third runway is being planned. We shall waste no time in starting construction, once the regulatory requirements have been met.

     When the third runway is commissioned, targeted in 2023, our airport would be able to handle 102 aircraft movements per hour, increased by 50 per cent from the current level, close to 100 million passengers, and some 9 million tonnes of cargo every year.

     The third runway will provide the additional external transport capacity necessary for Hong Kong to continue to serve as a global business hub, an international financial centre, a top tourist destination as well as a high-end logistics centre in the coming decades. It is the single most important project Hong Kong has undertaken since the Reunification. And of course, the single most expensive project as well. We certainly need capable hands for this mega project. As you know, Jack will be taking over the Chairmanship of the Airport Authority and our old friend, Fred Lam, has recently become the CEO. That is why we have with us here tonight a much better looking version of the TDC Executive Director, Miss Margaret Fong.

     We are pressing ahead also with the construction of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail. This high-speed rail system will reduce the train journey time to Guangzhou by more than half, and connect Hong Kong to the Mainland's 16,000-kilometre, high-speed rail network.

     Landing on an artificial island right next to the airport, the 29-kilometre Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge will open in just two years' time. It will create new opportunities with the western part of the Pearl River Delta, an area that has largely been untapped compared with the eastern section that is contiguous with Hong Kong.

     Culture, as you well know, is the bridge that connects us with the past, heightens the present, and leads us into the future. Our cultural interests and offerings reflect our roots - which is a city where East has long met West. Cantonese opera was the first Hong Kong treasure to be inscribed onto UNESCO's "representative list of intangible cultural heritage", but it does not end there.

     Hong Kong is also blessed with more than 1,000 arts groups. That includes nine flagship performing arts companies - from the philharmonic and ballet, to our Chinese orchestra and theatre companies. And galleries devoted to international and Chinese art are as rife as HSBC branches on the streets of Hong Kong.

     East and West will continue to fashion our distinctive cultural identity - thanks, in part to the West Kowloon Cultural District. It will rise as one of the world's largest cultural centres over the next decade and more.

     Stretching across 40 hectares of Victoria Harbour's prime waterfront, the Cultural District is now taking shape. Starting next year, a waterfront park will open in phases. A Chinese opera venue will be completed in 2017, followed a year later by M+, our state of the art museum complex. This 60,000 square-metre museum will spotlight visual art.

     Cultural offerings are already attracting people to the site of the West Kowloon. Since 2012, a bamboo theatre was built every year on site during Chinese New Year. The venue is created in about 20 days, with craftsmen turning thousands of bamboo poles into an 800-seat theatre for the performance of Chinese opera. That has been the traditional way for people to enjoy theatre in the past.

     Beyond the Cultural District, Kai Tak, the site of Hong Kong's former international airport, is gradually being transformed into a world-class tourism and entertainment hub. It already features the city's new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, located on the former runway. Just over a year old, it will position Hong Kong as a regional cruise hub. The cruise centre includes, by the way, Hong Kong's largest rooftop garden, with stunning vistas of Victoria Harbour.

     Also in the pipeline is a multi-purpose stadium for sports and cultural events, a cluster of luxury hotels and shopping malls, as well as a major tourism node to be located on what was the runway tip of the former Kai Tai Airport. This space, encompassing both land and water, will take up about 90 hectares.

     Hong Kong also boasts two world-class theme parks - Ocean Park and Disneyland. Both made for family fun. Ocean Park, by the way, won the most recent Applause Award. This biannual award is the global attraction industry's major recognition of excellence. Hong Kong Disneyland, which integrates timeless Chinese culture together with the boundless imagination of Disney, has become the must see destination for families and Disney fans worldwide.

     Major expansion plans are in the works for both of them - from new hotels to a world-class outdoor water park and an Iron Man experience. For the latter, you will be pleased to note that this Marvel Super Hero will save Hong Kong from alien invaders. Perhaps, we should have organised an encounter between him and the Transformers. You may recall that the Transformers ripped apart my office in their latest movie.

     I would actually be happy to move my office to East Kowloon, a major new business district. It is being gradually transformed from the previous industrial areas of Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay. When it is ready, East Kowloon will rise as Hong Kong's second major business district in the coming decade. Just like the Canary Wharf.

     The new CBD has the potential to provide about seven million square metres of commercial and office space, which is twice the amount that Central now offers. Indeed, a superlative range of transport, civic, leisure and public amenities will make it a highly attractive competitor to our current CBD.

     Ladies and gentlemen, long before the current media spotlight on Hong Kong, we were busy trading with the world. Busy serving as a gateway to global business. Enabling international and Mainland investment, expanding our infrastructure, boosting our regional logistics and communications links. In short, we were busy taking care of business.

     That has not changed. And Hong Kong is continuing - right now, today, this very evening - to do what it does best. Creating opportunities, building connections, planning for a future that is certain to reward all of us. I am confident that the UK, and your businesses, will see good reasons to continue to work with us toward that future in Hong Kong.

     Thank you very much for affording me the time and enjoy this special evening.

Ends/Friday, October 31, 2014
Issued at HKT 07:59


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