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Speeches and Remarks

Impressions on the U.S.-Hong Kong Partnership: Strong Ties Bring Shared Benefits

U.S. Consul General Clifford A. Hart Jr.'s Luncheon Speech to
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong
September 24, 2013, Conrad Hotel

(As Prepared For Delivery)

Welcome and Acknowledgements

Thank you all very much for coming this afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here today.

Over the next few minutes, I would like to share with you some thoughts about Hong Kong at the close of my first two months here as U.S. Consul General. I would like to talk about a few topics in particular. These are:

  • My impressions of Hong Kong
  • Some thoughts on why Hong Kong is important
  • U.S. support for the "one country, two systems" principle
  • U.S.-Hong Kong cooperation on overcoming global challenges
  • The SelectUSA Summit
  • U.S.-Hong Kong cooperation in multilateral institutions

Before I launch into those topics, however, I want to extend a very special thank you to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong for hosting this event.

I have to say that I find it fitting that AmCham is the host for my first public remarks in Hong Kong since my arrival on July 30. If there is one thing I have learned in my two months on the job, it is that the U.S. Consulate General has no better partner in the Special Administrative Region than AmCham.

While my Consulate General colleagues and I are our country's official representatives in the SAR, I strongly believe that the resident American business community in Hong Kong is an equally important partner in building a better understanding of the United States and better relations between Hong Kongers and their many friends in the United States. Many of your members have lived here for decades, your lives are intimately tied to the SAR's welfare, and your insights into the region are profound. I am deeply indebted to dozens of you for taking time these last two months to educate me about contemporary Hong Kong.

It is not surprising that, with all of Hong Kong's attractions, about 60,000 American citizens, the overwhelming majority of them in business, call this remarkable place home. As with U.S. chiefs of mission everywhere else in the world, your safety and welfare -- and the safety and welfare of all Americans visiting the SAR -- are my highest priority. They trump everything else, and they give the United States a genuine, direct stake in Hong Kong's future.

Working with the AmCham is a special personal pleasure because its President, Dr. Richard Vuylsteke, has been my close friend for a quarter century. A scholar and a lifelong student of China, Richard is an accomplished advocate of U.S. business interests.

Chairman James Sun has also been a key partner. I had the pleasure of meeting him before I arrived in Hong Kong. The Consulate General applauds the work James has done to champion American business interests -- and is even more pleased that he is willing to take on the chairmanship for a second year.

I also want to acknowledge the presence of Mr. Paul Tse, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Macau. I have made it a point to travel to Macau twice already since my arrival, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with Paul and his colleagues.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the gracious hospitality of the Conrad Hotel. I stayed here at the Conrad for my first couple of weeks in Hong Kong, and, from experience, I can tell you that it remains a fine representative of a great American brand.

Exploring Hong Kong

It really is an honor to be speaking to you today as the Chief of the U.S. Mission to the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau. As some of you know, I came here frequently in the 1980s and 1990s. I have therefore thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting myself with Hong Kong since my arrival on July 30.

Knowing that getting out of the office would be as much a part of my job as the more formal duties, on my very first day at post I treated myself to a quick visit to the Flagstaff Teaware Museum in the middle of beautiful Hong Kong Park. I was trying to establish a new norm for myself, and ever since then, I have made an effort to do something uniquely Hong Kong each week.

I've sampled yin yeung tea in Graham Street, chatted with a used book store owner, enjoyed some gai pai and milk tea at Wanchai's Kam Fung Bakery, attended a "Beginning of School" ceremony for school kids at a Taoist temple in Sham Shui Po, and sampled the superb local bean sauce produced by the Kowloon Soy Company.

These outings have of course helped introduce me to the people of Hong Kong. As important, however, they have also helped enrich my understanding of what makes Hong Kong unique. As I have said more than once to my wonderful Consulate General colleagues, Hong Kongers and Americans alike, "I can't believe I get paid to do this stuff!"

Anybody who spends time on the Web knows well that modern diplomats around the world -- regardless of whether they are American, Chinese, or other nationalities -- now spend time away from traditional tasks writing blogs, posting photographs, interacting with local citizens from all walks of life, and generally doing their best to promote people-to-people relations. The only thing that's special about me is that I am the lucky one who gets to do this in Hong Kong and Macau.

Why Hong Kong Matters

So what have I found out between the pineapple buns, the soy sauce, and gai pai? Well, everything I've seen confirms then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's typically incisive observation during her visit here in 2011 -- that Hong Kong still is "a city that bridges East and West and looks outward in all directions, a place where ideas become businesses, where companies compete on their merits, and where economic opportunity is palpable and real for millions of people, a place that defines the fierce and productive economic competition of our time."

Hong Kong truly is "Asia's World City" -- and that's saying a lot, because I would argue that there is simply no more important place in the world for America to be engaged than Asia. In my explorations about town, I have renewed my acquaintance with truths that you all take for granted. Hong Kong is an international media, cultural, and social networking hub, where the best of the best congregate to share ideas. Hong Kong's international orientation, its respect for fundamental freedoms, its commitment to the rule of law, its sound regulatory system, its open society, and its advanced higher educational system allow it to attract talent and wealth from around the world. Similarly, as a recent visit to a fascinating inventors' fair reminded me, innovation and entrepreneurship are alive and well in Hong Kong.

For my money, the best confirmation of Hong Kong's strengths and prospects is the decision by one of the world's premier business schools to move its Executive MBA program here. The people who run the Booth School at the University of Chicago are some of the smartest in the business, and if they are investing in Hong Kong, that is a strong confirmation that Hong Kong is a top-flight opportunity.

In terms of U.S. commercial interests, Hong Kong is America's 10th-largest export market for goods and 6th-largest for agricultural products. I am pleased to note that, following Hong Kong's recent decision to allow imports of U.S. bone-in beef, our beef exports have surged, making this one of our top markets for beef in the entire world. And the U.S. Government is working with the Hong Kong Government to expand further the market for U.S. beef exports.

Last June in New York, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung very aptly referred to Hong Kong as a "super-connector" between the world's two largest economies. I fully concur in the Chief Executive's observation, and it is an honor to work with him and the Hong Kong Government to deepen these mutually beneficial ties.

In my introductory meetings with Hong Kong's government, political, and business leaders, it became clear that Hong Kong has the infrastructure and connections with the rest of the world to provide the increasingly sophisticated services Mainland companies will need to succeed as they span the globe. For U.S. companies, Hong Kong offers the contacts and expertise to help them break into the Mainland market. That is one reason why close to 1,400 U.S. companies are represented in Hong Kong; more than half of them have chosen to base their regional or headquarters offices here.

Support for "One Country, Two Systems"

In my conversations with members of the business community here, I have heard repeatedly about the essential role that "One Country, Two Systems" plays in maintaining Hong Kong's stability and prosperity. Hong Kong is one of the most vibrant parts of the PRC, and, like all advanced economies, the SAR requires robust institutions that yield efficient, responsive governance. In the case of Hong Kong, the bases for its competitiveness include transparency, the rule of law, judicial independence, and a level playing field. To ensure the SAR's continued success, the Central Government has made the wise decision to proceed with the introduction of universal suffrage in the 2017 Chief Executive election and 2020 Legislative Council elections. I applaud this decision, as such reforms will strengthen the Hong Kong Government's ability to address pressing policy issues that are essential to maintaining the region's competitiveness and, therefore, its prosperity and stability.

As you know, my presentation today constitutes my first public remarks since I arrived in Hong Kong July 30. My only official comments otherwise were in my written statement the Consulate General released the day I arrived. This was by design: I wanted to meet extensively across Hong Kong before beginning to articulate U.S. views. Some of Hong Kong's lively, free media in the meanwhile have carried creative accounts of meetings and public comments that I, at least, cannot recall. I'm reminded of an observation ascribed to the great Yogi Berra, "I never said most of the things I said."

Let me therefore take this opportunity to set the record straight and reassert unequivocally that U.S. policy toward Hong Kong remains unchanged. The United States supports the "One Country, Two Systems" concept promoted by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s. U.S. support extends to both halves of that formula. For the United States, Hong Kong is of course a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, and China is a nation in which America invests tremendous energy to build positive, cooperative, and constructive relations, as highlighted earlier this year at the successful Sunnylands Summit between President Obama and President Xi. Equally, we support the "two systems" element of the equation and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed by the Basic Law, precisely because we believe that Hong Kong's special status has been indispensable to its stability, prosperity, and growth since 1997.

The United States Government has repeatedly made clear that it supports Hong Kong's progress toward genuine universal suffrage as laid out in the Basic Law and the National People's Congress's 2007 decision. This U.S. policy is unchanged. We believe that an open society, with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law, is essential to maintaining Hong Kong's stability and prosperity.

Let me also be clear that the United States will always stand for our core democratic values. We have no prescription for Hong Kong's electoral process. One of the fundamental precepts of democracy is that the people themselves have a full say in how their systems work. Democracy adapts itself across societies. Far from expecting that everyone out there will copy our system in all its particulars, the United States is on record as enthusiastically supporting the wide range of credible democratic systems that free peoples of the world have established to meet their needs.

The United States therefore does not take a position for or against any particular electoral formulation on how genuine universal suffrage is achieved. As the world's oldest constitutional democracy, we will always advocate the fundamental principles that underlie every successful democracy -- open dialogue and debate; a strong and independent free press; an independent judiciary; the rule of law; free and fair elections; and choice among candidates. On the details of how that is implemented in Hong Kong, however, we of course defer to the people of Hong Kong; their elected representatives and political parties; civil society; the SAR Government; and the Central Government.

Finally, let me also say that I have been deeply encouraged by my meetings across Hong Kong's rich political spectrum. Every leader I have met cares passionately about the SAR, supports democracy, and recognizes that the region's future is inextricably linked to the rest of China's. Differences on detail are inevitable in any polity of seven million human beings. It is clear to me, however, that broad political labels such as "pro-democracy" and "pro-Beijing" fail to capture the nuances of Hong Kong's reality. I have yet personally to meet anybody who is anti-democratic or anti-Chinese. I am confident that strong common goals, the creative practicality of the Hong Kong people, and the mutual forbearance that is a hallmark of Chinese culture will inform the complex discussions and final decisions on universal suffrage.

Overcoming Global Challenges

The U.S. Consulate General works closely with the Hong Kong Government to overcome the challenges that transcend our borders, such as drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, money laundering and other financial crimes, terror financing, nuclear proliferation, wildlife trafficking, and environmental degradation. Of particular concern is the growing problem of cyber crime, including organized criminals targeting our financial and business infrastructure and stealing trade secrets and intellectual property.

We in the Consulate applaud Hong Kong's many successes in disrupting money laundering operations and intercepting illegal narcotics and endangered wildlife products. Hong Kong also leads the way in the region in enforcing intellectual property rights. The United States supports efforts to amend the SAR's outdated copyright law to bring it into the digital age.

SelectUSA

One of the most exciting projects we are working on right now is SelectUSA, a Presidential initiative to boost Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States. To advance this initiative, the U.S. Government is hosting an international event in Washington, D.C., on October 31 and November 1. This first-of-its-kind, White House-sponsored summit will be hosted by President Obama and feature participation by Secretary of State Kerry, Treasury Secretary Lew, Commerce Secretary Pritzker, and U.S. Trade Representative Froman.

The goal of the SelectUSA Investment Summit is to match potential investors with local, state, and regional economic development organizations, to learn more about what makes the United States the world's premier investment location, and to share views on making the U.S. FDI environment even more appealing. Chinese investment in the United States has grown at an average rate of 71% every year since 2006, making this an important focus for U.S. efforts. As Secretary Kerry said recently: "We offer the world's best infrastructure and the world's leading workforce to investors who want access to the world's most attractive and stable market for high-quality goods and services."

I look forward to joining leaders of 20-30 Hong Kong companies in Washington for that event next month. I am very grateful to AmCham for the support it has provided on SelectUSA. In fact, with AmCham's help, we recently founded the world's first-ever "SelectUSA Committee," which brings private sector service providers, investors, and U.S. Government officials together into one team. The SelectUSA Committee is diligently working to put together a fine delegation to travel to Washington, D.C.

APEC/East Asia Summit/WTO

Underscoring the importance we place on the Asia-Pacific region, President Obama will participate in the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting next month in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei. APEC is an important vehicle for our efforts to ensure free and open trade and investment, and we value our partnership with Hong Kong in that forum. Indonesia has been an excellent host this year, and we look forward to making progress on eliminating chokepoints in supply chain connectivity and finding alternatives to local content requirements and discriminatory innovation policies. Looking ahead, 2014 will be a very important year, as China takes the helm as host.

We also look forward to continuing our close engagement with Hong Kong when the WTO meets in Bali in December to discuss ways to streamline global trade, including negotiations on a groundbreaking International Services Agreement, which will ultimately represent two-thirds of the world's trade in services.

Conclusion

Secretary Kerry once described Asia as "built for the future, not bound to the past," and I think that is a very apt description for Hong Kong in particular. The region cast its spell on me 30 years ago, when I was fortunate enough to stop here for consultations en route to my first diplomatic posting, in Guangzhou. I've never lost that fascination with the place, my affection for its remarkable people, or my optimism for its future. Indeed, my enthusiasm for Hong Kong simply intensifies over time.

With its mix of modernity and tradition, its hospitality to foreigners and respect for the past, Hong Kong, in my view, is the best place on Earth for a non-Chinese person to experience Chinese culture. Hong Kong as ever remains remarkable as the world's premier window into China and China's window onto the world. Whether it be in the arts, lively public debate, cuisine, or other areas, I look forward to spending the next several years enjoying all of Hong Kong's riches.

I also look forward to getting to know you better and learning how my team at the U.S. Consulate General can best serve you and advance America's and our common interests in Hong Kong.

Thank you for being such a patient audience. I believe we will now open the floor for questions.

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