Hong Kong Gears Up for Economic Recovery

Article excerpt

ANSON CHAN

Chief Secretary for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Although 1999 will be another difficult year, there are encouraging signs that Hong Kong's economic recovery may be underway. In 1998, Hong Kong's economy shrank by 5%, unemployment more than doubled, and real estate prices were cut in half. Now the economy is believed to have hit bottom and is expected to start growing again late this year. Speech to a business luncheon, Vancouver, B.C., June 17, 1999.

It is a delight to be back in beautiful Vancouver -- with is stunning backdrop of harbour and mountains, something that Hong Kong shares with your city. It reminds me of Hong Kong.

Every visit here reminds me of the tremendous bounds between our two communities. Canadian Consular officials in Hong Kong have told me that they have your country's busiest overseas passport office, overtaking London a couple of years ago. In a five-year cycle, more than 75,000 passports have been issues through Hong Kong.

There are now more than 300,000 people living in Canada who were born in Hong Kong. At the same time, there are some 150,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong. Many of these are people who had emigrated to Canada but have returned to Hong Kong to work. I also believe that Chinese is now the third most spoken language in Canada, and that some high schools offer mandarin as an optional course.

I mention these facts and figures to illustrate the depth of the people-to-people interaction between our two communities; the bonds of family and friends that span the Pacific. Of course, on top of all this we have our economic links. Last year total trade was worth some C$6 billion, slightly down on the previous year and obviously due to the on-going economic downturn in East Asia. Continued strenthening and expansion of economic links is clearly in both our interests. The promotion of stronger economic ties is of course, one of the reasons why I am here today.

Another is to give you an update on how Hong Kong has managed since reunification in 1997. In only two weeks, we will celebrate our second anniversary as a Special Administrative Region of China. The past two years have been very eventful. For all of us in government, it has been a time of great challenge. But it has been a rewarding time as well. The biggest challenge, without a doubt, has been managing change. And there have been two fundamental changes -- one political, the other economic.

Our reunification on July 1, 1997, could not have gone more smoothly. It was a virtually seamless transition for the administration. Hong Kong people have taken that change in their stride and are moving ahead under the concept of "one country, two systems." Hong Kong people are running Hong Kong, with the high degree of autonomy promised under our miniconstitution, the Basic Law. The challenge then, as it is today, is how to fully and successfully implement this unique concept.

As you can imagine, it is a new journey for all of us. Today, nearly two years on, we have accomplished a lot. And while we have had to contend with several important and difficult issues, we are confident that with the experience we have gained during the past two years, we will be able to continue our steady progress in implementing this cornerstone of our development as a Special Administrative Region.

The rule of law is the foundation of our success. Despite what some commentators might say, I can assure you that it is alive and well in Hong Kong. And to guarantee our future stability, we will ensure that the institutions which protect the rights of our citizens remain intact and continue to gain strength.

Asia's financial turmoil

The second change we encountered has been the effects of the Asian financial turmoil. This was totally unexpected and, as it turned out, has had far greater impact than any other factor in our transition. …