Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Washington DC
Hong Kong


























































































































Remarks of Clement Leung, JP
Hong Kong Commissioner to the United States

Gala Dinner to Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Establishment of the
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Washington, D.C.
22 June 2017

Thank you very much for joining us tonight at this Gala Dinner to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Twenty years ago, Hong Kong reunited with our homeland.
Under the “One Country Two Systems” arrangement, we are part of China but are able to retain a unique identity. Hong Kong continues to be successful as the premier international business centre in Asia. We are ranked as the freest and the most competitive economy of the world. We are the number one IPO stock market. We achieve a state of full employment in our labour market, lowest crime rate in 44 years. And our life expectancy is longer than that of Japan.

But if you look at history, a lot of people were not awfully upbeat about Hong Kong. In 1842, British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston described Hong Kong as “a barren rock with hardly any house upon it,” concluding that it would “never be a mart of trade”. But our city has prospered and prevailed against the odds.

When the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong was signed in 1984, there was a lot anxiety. There’s no historical precedent for “One Country, Two Systems”. People were not sure whether the concept would work. It was like performing a heart transplant while the patient is running a full marathon. Nobody had done this before. We had to end our constitutional links with the UK, reengineer the interface of our key institutions and connect to China’s system, while simultaneously operating at full throttle to manage our socio-economic challenges.

Back then, we had a confidence crisis: thousands of middle class professionals emigrated to foreign countries. Some Hong Kong companies moved their domiciles abroad. Fortune magazine pronounced the “Death of Hong Kong” in a 1995 cover story which said, I quote, “Hong Kong’s future can be summed up in two words: It’s over.” and “what’s indisputably dying is Hong Kong’s role as a vibrant international commercial and financial hub”.

I joined the Hong Kong government on 1 July 1987, exactly ten years before the handover and was lucky enough to be involved in preparing Hong Kong for the transition. Our morale was high because we were determined to prove the doomsayers wrong.

In the midst of the uncertainty, we examined every aspect of our system to ensure that they could work under the new constitutional order. Many of our laws were extended from UK legislation through Orders in Council and we undertook a massive exercise to localize all of them.

We made sure that all provisions in our statutes books would be compatible with our new constitution, the Basic Law, and our Bill of Rights.

We established our own Court of Final Appeal to take over the power of final adjudication from the Privy Council of the House of Lords, and invited prominent foreign judges to serve on the bench.

We built up our own network of international agreements with our trading partners to ensure that we took on the rights and obligations in trade, commerce, investment, aviation, shipping and law enforcement in our own right.

We strengthened the capability of our Police Force to take over all law and order functions of the British Garrison so that they can deal with any conceivable internal security situation.

Then came 1 July 1997. For those of you who were in Hong Kong attending the Handover Ceremony, I am sure that you remember that the day was pouring with rain. The Union Jack went down and the PRC flag was hoisted. End of an era, and beginning of a new one. It’s not over. It’s just the start.

This has been an amazing journey for us. Over the past two decades, there were ups and downs. Hong Kong took its challenges in stride and emerged stronger after each crisis.

With the full support of the Central Government in Beijing, “One Country, Two Systems” enables Hong Kong to be the first-mover to capture the economic opportunities arising from the reform, development and opening up of Mainland China while retaining a separate system that gives us the autonomy to make our own laws and determine our own trade and economic policies. This has given businesses the trust, confidence and predictability they need to thrive in the region.

Not only have Hong Kong emigrants returned from Canada, Australia and the UK, but we now have a strong inflow of expatriates. Our American population has nearly doubled and the French population tripled since the handover.

Hong Kong is still that shining beacon of free trade, open markets, and the rule of law, with low taxes, a level playing field for local and foreign companies alike, a high degree of transparency, and zero tolerance to corruption. We continue to enjoy a strong bilateral relationship with the United States, being the ninth largest export market for American goods and a close law enforcement partner.

Other than our pillar economic sectors of trade, financial services, tourism and professional services, new sectors and opportunities have emerged. These include the development of Hong Kong as the largest centre for off-shore RMB business, implementation of the Stock Connect programmes that enable international investors to access the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets, our vibrant innovation and technology start-up ecosystem, wine auction and distribution, arts, culture and creative industries, as well as China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

While we can be solidly united for a common purpose, we can be sharply divided and polarized on sensitive political and livelihood issues. Such differences are exacerbated by generational divides and income disparity. As in many places around the world, the political atmosphere can be toxic. Hong Kong people understand the meaning of

partisanship and filibustering as well as people in this town. There have been cases, incidents and controversies that cause concern.

Remember that we just had a heart transplant? While the transition was smooth, we need time and space to adjust to this new constitutional order, particularly on issues involving the interface of the Hong Kong system with the Mainland system.

These issues are bound to be sensitive and challenging. There can be significant differences of views and disagreement on what is best for Hong Kong, and on what is right for Hong Kong.

I would say that such debates are natural and anticipated. Like any other open and pluralistic society, Hong Kong is prosperous and successful not because we all think alike, but because we are different.

We have to bear in mind that while other matured political systems, like yours, had hundreds of years to evolve, we just had 20 years to operationalize “One Country Two Systems”.

We also have to bear in mind that Hong Kong, like anywhere else, is not perfect. We fumble and we make mistakes. Often times, we do not explain ourselves very well, and that is why we have our share of

negative coverage. But that makes “One Country, Two Systems” more authentic and real. You should be more worried about Hong Kong if all you hear is good news from us.

I am confident about the future of Hong Kong because successive generations of Chinese leaders want Hong Kong to succeed and our people continue to have this “can do” spirit to get things done, because the rule of law is rock solid and our judiciary is fiercely independent.

I am confident because our press gives full coverage to the views of people holding different political beliefs. Our people have unfettered access to the internet, Google, Facebook, and like-it-or- not, Twitter. Major media organizations such as Bloomberg, Reuters, AP, CNN, CNBC, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal have huge regional operations in Hong Kong. There is no restriction whatsoever for foreign journalists to file or broadcast their stories from our city.

I am also confident because Hong Kong people are still very critical and vocal. We can be really harsh on ourselves and others. Our people have no hesitation to speak out or even take to the streets if things do not seem right to them. Last year, we had an average of 250 public meetings, rallies and demonstrations every week – 250 every
week. We 7

do not have a place called the Speakers’ Corner, because every street corner in Hong Kong is the Speakers’ Corner!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank a number of people.

I would like to thank the people who bet against Hong Kong, because they are the ones who drive us harder to prove them wrong.

I would like to thank our competitors, whether it is Shanghai, Shenzhen, Singapore, New York or London. They are the ones that keep us awake at night and motivate us to do better.

I would also like to thank all of you for being a friend of Hong Kong. As Hong Kong Commissioner, I have visited some 28 states, from the Big Apple to the Big Easy, from Big Sky Country to the Back Bay, and from the Appalachia to the Alamo. These are very different places in America. But wherever I go, I can feel the same goodwill and support towards Hong Kong. We are grateful for the friendship of the people in this great country.

Finally, I would like to thank you all for joining us today to celebrate our magical journey. And I hope you will enjoy the program this evening. Thank you very much.

I would now like to invite our guests of honour on stage for a celebratory toast. May I now call upon Minister Wu Xi of the Chinese Embassy and Acting Secretary of State Susan Thornton to join me on stage.


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