Anson Chan Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Shaping Hong Kong's Future:  Conversation with Anson Chan, Chief Secretary of Hong Kong; 1/27/97 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by S. Beth Atkin

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Hong Kong after 1997

In the world that we've entered after the end of the Cold War the focus everywhere is on transitions, and if we think of Eastern Europe, the emphasis on the movement from socialist governments and economies to capitalist ones. Hong Kong seems to be uniquely placed to deal with this situation in an entirely different and creative way, and I'm curious as to what it means for the civil service -- the kind of confident, neutral civil service that you've just described -- when one is going through the throes of a transition, where you are at a meeting-ground of two very different ways of life, and where all the parties have an interest in getting it right. That must pose a special responsibility for the civil service as they try to maintain their neutrality and continue to maintain the confidence, continue to do it without corruption. Talk a little about that.

I agree. I think that is a challenge. The starting point of course is to remember that Chinese leaders have promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under this unique concept of one country/two systems. And the Joint Declaration on the Future of Hong Kong makes it abundantly clear that we in Hong Kong will continue to practice the capitalist system, whereas China will continue to practice the socialist system. Anson Chan And I think it is on this basis that we can move confidently into the future. We've put in place the necessary building blocks that will ensure that the promises in the Joint Declaration and the basic law can actually be implemented on the ground, that we can actually be in position to practice a high degree of autonomy. I think Hong Kong's success relies, among other things, on our openness -- our openness to trade and commerce, our openness to new ideas, to people from all over the world. And it is important to maintain that openness after 1997. Hong Kong is truly a place where east meets west. I think we have been able to absorb Western values, Western culture, combined with the best of Eastern and Asian values and culture, and I believe that we get the most out of this combination. And so first, to continue to succeed and to continue to play the prominent role that we currently play in the world league, we need to maintain that openness. And I believe that given everything that we've done to provide for the necessary framework, given the commitment of the two sovereign powers to making a success of Hong Kong under the concept of one country/two systems, and given furthermore the commitment of Hong Kong people themselves, we should make a success of Hong Kong after 1997.

China itself has a real interest in not losing sight of the goals that you've just mentioned. For example, their future efforts to bring Taiwan back are very much dependent on whether this transition in Hong Kong succeeds.

You're quite right in saying that there are massive self-interests on the part of China in seeing Hong Kong succeed. And the self-interest doesn't only lie in terms of economic growth. Clearly we are now more and more economically integrated with China. Most of our manufacturing processes have moved across the border into China. And in a way that has enabled Hong Kong to continue to grow because we have this vast economic hinterland just across the border. But we are also at the same time providing help to China's own open door policies and modernization programs, and a whole range of other activities -- in financial regulation, setting up stock exchanges, helping them bring up professional standards (for example, in the accountancy field), and helping them solve the housing problem, and many other such areas. And I think we will continue to provide those sort of services and continue to be a window to China on the rest of the world. Of course, in turn we also benefit from China's economic growth. And I believe that as China grows economically, in its wake you will see a greater degree of political liberalization, a greater confidence in embracing the democratic principles that we in Hong Kong -- as well as in America and all over the world -- take for granted and value. And we believe that we can grow in tandem with China. If China prospers it will be good for Hong Kong and it will certainly be good for the rest of the world.

In this continuing process I would imagine that it's very important for all of the interests involved to be aware of all of the issues. So it sounds like there needs to be a continuing dialogue with the Western powers, with the business interests within Hong Kong, with all the various groups that are concerned about Hong Kong's future.

Keeping the channels of communication open is crucially important. We need, first of all, particularly to manage our relationship with our new sovereign power, that is with China. And in that context we need more contact at all levels. We're already doing a great deal of those, with not only provincial people but also with business people. We certainly need those who invest in Hong Kong, and our trading partners -- particularly America, who is one of our most important trading partners -- to continue to take an interest in what's going on in Hong Kong. These days America, Canada, Japan, and many other countries have an increasing stake in Hong Kong, not only in terms of their financial investments, but also increasingly we have sizable American communities, Canadian communities, Australian communities living in Hong Kong. So there's a self-interest in other counties seeing Hong Kong continue to prosper, emphasizing to China that they're looking on to see whether the promises in the Joint Declaration will be faithfully implemented. And that is important in terms of assisting Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy. We want countries like America to continue to trade with us, continue to treat us as effective partners in law enforcement actions. For example, we are currently regarded as valued partners in a whole range of activities such as preventing smuggling of narcotics, illegal immigrants, etc. So we ask your country and other countries to judge us by our actions and less by perceptions that perhaps things will start going wrong after 1997.

So again we get back to this idea of the flow of information, an engagement of all of the parties to the process, elevating the consciousness of all the parties to the common interests in the future of Hong Kong.

Yes, that's very important.

Next Page: Negotiating with China

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