Remarks of Eddie Mak Hong Kong Commissioner to the United States Chinese New Year’s reception January 29, 2020
Good evening everyone. Happy New Year!
Chinese New Year is traditionally a time when we reinforce the bonds of friendship. It is so wonderful to see you all here as we usher in the Year of the Rat. I would like to extend a special welcome to Ambassador Cui, Undersecretary Cordell Hull from the Department of Commerce, as well as many other friends of Hong Kong joining us this evening.
The New Year hasn’t started as we had hoped. The current global health crisis is concerning to us all. It reminds us how small the world really is. Hong Kong is once again on the front lines. Given our experience with SARS, our health authorities, in collaboration with those on the Mainland of China and around the world, are taking a proactive scientific, transparent and public health-oriented approach to tackle this emergent threat. Our Chief Executive has activated the Emergency Response Level and implemented a series of measures to tackle the outbreak. It is our hope that a coordinated global effort can contain and eradicate the outbreak very soon.
The past year has been a restless one for Hong Kong. The past eight months have been a time of self-examination. Our Chief Executive has acknowledged the Hong Kong Government’s shortcomings which have exposed broad dissatisfaction.
Despite the strain, our institutional strengths, most notably the rule of law, are upheld. The sanctity of the rule of law is crucial to the stability of Hong Kong. Our judiciary continues to administer justice without fear or favor. As former Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin said last month, and I quote, “the Hong Kong’s court is very independent, the judges are very high caliber”. Having recently served on the bench of several hearings as a non-permanent judge of Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, Madam Justice McLachlin expressed confidence that the body is immune to outside pressure.
It is the common aim of all in Hong Kong to end the prolonged unrest, restore calm and rebuild trust. We continue to engage with people from all walks of life to re-establish a path to peace and harmony. This requires an earnest effort to understand diverse views and deftly balance the interests of all in faithfully implementing the “one country, two systems” principle.
Hong Kong has faced adversity before. Yet every time our community has found ways to persevere. Our resilience was on display in November during our peaceful District Council elections. Nearly 3 million registered electors cast their votes, representing a record high turnout rate of over 70 percent. This demonstrated the high degree of confidence people have in our electoral process.
On the economic front, Hong Kong hasn’t fared well. While economic growth had already moderated, the situation deteriorated with the prolonged unrest. Our real GDP growth forecast for 2019 has been revised downwards to negative 1.3 percent.
We are taking a number of measures to support the economy and ease the pressure on our people. We are moving forward with plans to increase land and housing supply. Within the next five years, we will bring online infrastructure projects which will create jobs and position Hong Kong for the future. These include a third airport runway, the Kai Tak Sports Park and the expansion of our arts and culture hub, the West Kowloon Cultural District.
We will capitalize on regional opportunities, notably the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road Initiative, and strengthen our ties with other economies.
We are playing to our strengths with our embrace of fintech. Fintech is a natural evolution for Hong Kong given our status as an international financial center. Last year, we topped the world in funds raised through initial public offerings, taking in about US$40 billion.
Innovation and Technology
We are also looking to the promise of innovation and technology. We are establishing two new research clusters devoted to healthcare technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics. We welcome American universities, companies and entrepreneurs to partner with us.
Hong Kong-US Relations Our bilateral relations with the US remain as strong as ever. In 2018, Hong Kong continued to be the trading partner with which the US enjoyed the largest trade surplus, at over US$33 billion.
Hong Kong is also an attractive destination for US investment. In 2018, US foreign direct investment in Hong Kong was over US$82 billion. In return, Hong Kong’s direct investment in the US amounted to nearly US$17 billion.
US policy toward Hong Kong has safeguarded not only mutually beneficial trade and investment ties, but the interests of our sizable American community, including over 1,300 American firms and 85,000 American citizens.
Hong Kong continues to be a responsible partner of the US in counter-terrorism, anti-money laundering, anti-drug trafficking and strategic trade controls. We are keen to bolster our partnership and collaboration.
We also look forward to the 12th edition of Trade Winds, the largest annual US government-led trade mission, to be held in Hong Kong in April. It will provide an excellent opportunity for American firms to explore trade and business opportunities in the region through Hong Kong. I encourage our American friends to join the Department of Commerce’s trade delegation.
This year is expected to be a challenging year for Hong Kong. There are varied expectations on where Hong Kong is and where it is going. For those observing from the outside in, I encourage you to view Hong Kong through a wider lens. While we are taking every effort to end the prolonged unrest, we should not lose sight of Hong Kong’s historical and entrenched institutional strengths. These strengths, coupled with our core values – many of which we share with the US – ballast Hong Kong. It is in our own interest to safeguard them.
Ladies and gentlemen, this year is the Year of the Rat. In Chinese culture, rats are intellectual, resilient, adaptable and full of vitality. I hope it bodes well for all of us.
I would now like to invite my colleagues on stage for a celebratory toast.