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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Negotiating with China

When you were the Secretary for Economic Services you fell into a role of negotiating with the Chinese on the building of the new Hong Kong airport. What insights did you develop from that experience that you might be able to share with us?

I had some involvement in negotiations with China but largely my responsibility was to move the project forward in terms of bringing together all the parties concerned, setting up the necessary machinery and coordinating roles of the different government departments, and generally helping to pull the whole thing together, because it is a massive project. All told it's worth [US] $20 billion. And it's not just the airport that we're talking about but the whole infrastructure, the network of highways, bridges, and roads that are needed to connect the new airport with the urban areas of Hong Kong and Kowloon. In terms of negotiations with China, I think that it's like all negotiations -- it takes basically an understanding of each other's position. There's a common objective in seeing the project materialize, in seeing a smooth implementation of the project. Yes we have had our differences of opinion, particularly on financing, on how quickly one should do it. But we've managed to resolve all those issues. We signed a memorandum of understanding on how we should tackle the airport project and we are looking forward confidently to opening the new airport in about May or April of 1998.

In this process is there any confusion with regard to who one has to deal with on the Chinese side? I know that as we go through the transition, it will not just be the central government that you will have to deal with but also provinces and locales that would like to benefit from a relationship with Hong Kong. How is that being managed?

It's not always easy to define clearly the levels of authority and, as you say, who we should be dealing with. But it's abundantly clear that we need to establish communication and contact with people at all levels within China. You're quite right in saying certainly at the provincial level, and at the center we also need communication. I'm sure that the Chief Executive, Mr. Tung, will be sorting out his line of communication with Chinese leaders. Clearly we will have more to do with provinces that are closer physically to Hong Kong, particularly with Guangdong [Canton], with whom we already have very good contacts both in the public sector and certainly amongst business people. But increasingly as there are more investments by Hong Kong entrepreneurs in different parts of China, you will also see building up more levels and more channels of communication. And the more communication there is, the more of a dialogue, I think the smoother will be Hong Kong's transition and the smoother we will be able to implement the one country/two systems concept. That said, I think it is also very necessary to help explain to Chinese people the provisions in the basic law, because I'm sure that this high degree of autonomy that is promised to Hong Kong, the exact provisions are not all that clear to people at the provincial level. So we do need to explain why it is that Hong Kong is different from any other province in China, and why it is important for us to keep that high degree of autonomy. I also know that the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, who will continue to be responsible for Hong Kong after 1997, realizes that one of their key functions after 1997 will be to explain to their own provinces why Hong Kong is special and distinct and set aside from any other province in China.

Next Page: Conclusion

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