Closing remarks by Chief Executive-elect at SCMP "Celebrating Hong Kong's Coming of Age" Conference (English only) (with photo)

     Following is the closing remarks by the Chief Executive-elect, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the South China Morning Post (SCMP) "Celebrating Hong Kong's Coming of Age" Conference this afternoon (June 12):

Joe (Chairman, SCMP Publishers, Mr Joe Tsai), Robin (Director, SCMP Group Holding Limited, Mr Robin Hu), Gary (Chief Executive Officer of SCMP Publishers, Mr Gary Liu), Sir David (Sir David Akers-Jones), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It is my great honour to be here to say a few words to conclude today's Conference to celebrate Hong Kong's achievements since the reunification.

     I would like to firstly congratulate the South China Morning Post on the success of the Conference. You have managed to pack into a one-day Conference over 20 distinguished speakers and panellists who have helped us take stock of Hong Kong's strengths and weaknesses and offered their advice on the threats and opportunities that we are facing. I have no doubt that every one of them spoke with passion for Hong Kong and a sense of hope and confidence that the best of Hong Kong has yet to come.

     In three weeks' time, Hong Kong will have returned to our Motherland for 20 years. And on the 1st of July, I will be sworn in as the Fifth Term Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), or more commonly introduced now, as the first lady Chief Executive. From that day onwards, and for the next five years, "building tomorrow's Hong Kong today" will be both my duty and my honour.

     Many of us in this room here of my age must still have vivid memories of the signing of the Joint Declaration on 19 December, 1984, and the ceremony on the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR on 1 July, 1997. I think it would be fair to say that during the transitional period in the 1980s and 1990s, we saw ups and downs, excitements and anxieties, as well as expected and unexpected changes in our society. Yet, at the end of the day, despite some turbulent moments, our Motherland's resumption of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong was a smooth one. Hong Kong remains one of the most vibrant cities in the world. To most Hong Kong people, they have continued their way of living without much difference before or after 1997.

     All these came about not out of luck, but because of the "one country, two systems" principle, the guidance and safeguards in the Basic Law, the support of the Central Authorities and Hong Kong people's wisdom and resilience.

     In the past 20 years, Hong Kong continued to thrive under the new constitutional order. We continue with our capitalist system, our open economy, our rights and freedoms, our way of living. Our legal system is as, if not more, robust and respected both locally and internationally as before. Our judiciary continues to adjudicate cases without fear or favour. Our civil service continues to be clean, efficient and professional. Our city is one of the safest in the world. Our press remains as vigilant and vocal as ever.

     These are the core values and traditional strengths of Hong Kong. They are our ingredients of success as an international financial centre, as the world's freest economy ranked by the Heritage Foundation for 23 years in a row, as the base for some 8 000 overseas and Mainland companies operating locally or in the region, and home to 7.3 million people. As the next Chief Executive, it is my foremost duty to protect and preserve these values and strengths to ensure our continued success under "one country, two systems".

     But for those who care about Hong Kong, we could not help being anxious. Our economy is facing many challenges, our city has become more stressful, our society is more polarised, our community is less cohesive and our young people are more disgruntled. During the intense 10-week election campaign, I had "heart-to-heart" conversations at over 100 meetings with different sectors, including sessions with young professionals. I feel even more anxious now that the ongoing conflict within our society has caused Hong Kong to let opportunities slip.

     I am worried, but not discouraged. Hong Kong has a strong base, and we have many talents in the community. I firmly believe that we have the ability to scale even greater heights.

     Building the greater Hong Kong should start today, and with the Government displaying vision and leadership, and making some real hard efforts. There is simply no room for complacency. Socially, we are facing a number of challenges, most notably in respect of housing, education, an ageing of the population, opportunities for the youths, and poverty. Each of these issues has developed from complex reasons and backgrounds. As pledged in my Manifesto when I ran for the Chief Executive election, I will work with all Hong Kong people to resolve them. Under my new style of governance, my team will canvass opinions from all sectors of society. We will encourage more public participation and adopt an evidence-based, innovative and collaborative approach in solving these difficult problems. Some of those solutions will inevitably upset some quarters, and disrupt certain vested interests. But for the broader interest of Hong Kong people, we should have the determination to press ahead.

     But it is in the economic sphere that I think we must have a greater sense of purpose and urgency. Faced with both global and regional competitions, the Government's role has to change in order to maintain and enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness, and the Government's fiscal approach also has to change to one willing to invest more in the future.

     Thus, apart from promising a new style of governance characterised by openness, public participation and innovation, I ran my campaign on the premises of new roles of the Government and a new fiscal philosophy. The new roles of the Government proposed by me include a public service provider making good use of technology, a regulator without compromising efficiency and compliance, a facilitator displaying a "can-do spirit" and a promoter proud of telling the Hong Kong success story.

     My new fiscal philosophy has apparently caught the greatest attention. On the premises of ensuring the stability of our public finances, I said we should wisely use our accumulated surpluses to invest for the future. Only by investing more generously can we bring long-term results for society. In this way, government revenue will increase continuously, thereby enabling us to make further investments for our future. I believe that if we make the right investments and in a timely manner we can reduce the extra expenses which may have to be incurred if action is delayed. This can be readily seen in providing early assessment and timely intervention to children with special education needs, more accessible home and community care for the frail elderly and more employment assistance to those who are able to work. The $5 billion additional recurrent expenditure every year that I have pledged for education will be able to provide the much needed stable environment for quality education.

     While maintaining a simple tax system and low tax rates, I am advocating a new direction for taxation to enhance competitiveness. Two specific measures have been included in my Manifesto. First is to introduce a two-tier profits tax system to reduce the tax burden on enterprises, especially the small, medium and start-up business. Secondly, we will provide additional tax deductions to incentivise corporates' spending on R&D. I intend to host a "Summit on the New Directions for Taxation" later this year to collate more views from all concerned.

     A new and more proactive role of the Government in promoting economic development should not be confined to money. My government will spare no efforts in creating land and space for business operations, promoting Hong Kong's external affairs through more government-to-government initiatives and the training of talents.

     Friends, my vision for Hong Kong is one of hope and happiness - a city we are all proud to call home. To achieve this vision, we need to have a society that is united, harmonious and caring. This vision is not, in reality, that far off. In fact, it has been Hong Kong's way to succeed for more than half a century. We have not lost our intrinsic advantages. As long as we can connect and achieve consensus, and capitalise on our strengths, Hong Kong's tomorrow is bright.

     Thank you.

Ends/Monday, June 12, 2017
Issued at HKT 17:30