Hong Kong: Asia's Model for Economic Reform, Recovery and Basic Freedoms

By Chan, Anson | Canadian Speeches, April 1998 | Go to article overview

Hong Kong: Asia's Model for Economic Reform, Recovery and Basic Freedoms


Chan, Anson, Canadian Speeches


MRS. ANSON CHAN

Chief Secretary, Government of The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Last year's plunge from economic miracle to market meltdown still confronts Asians with difficult economic times. But Hong Kong -- with the same basic freedoms as part of China as under British rule -- offers a model for the type of political and economic reform that's needed for economic recovery. Speech to the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association (Toronto), Hong Kong Trade Development Council, and Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Toronto, January 20, 1998.

A fascinating book that appeared in the shops last year was The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny, a reflection on the life of early Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. It contained some haunting scenes in the fearsome splendor of the far north of Canada, but that is not my main reason for recalling it. Through observation of Franklin's life and times it provided telling commentary on our own lives -- times filled with the rush and tumble of events--and it gave a quiet reminder that it is the still waters that run deep, that the things that are formed to endure are those that are crafted by time.

This afternoon I would like to reflect on two particular things that time has crafted to endure in our own age, Hong Kong's friendship with Canada and Hong Kong itself.

Our links have been forged firmly over more than a century. The great railway that knitted your country together also joined Canada to the economy of the Pacific basin, within which Hong Kong was already a major hub for trade and commerce. In the last war, Canadian soldiers stood bravely by Hong Kong, a sacrifice that is not and will not be forgotten. Since then, increasing flows of people between us have added to trade and commerce the ties of culture, ideas, education, and arts.

For me personally, this is my third visit to your country. I came first in 1992 as secretary for economic services, again in 1994 as chief secretary for Hong Kong under British sovereignty, and I return now as chief secretary for administration in China's Special Administration Region of Hong Kong: new title, same job. Each of these visits has been important, and I have much appreciated the warmth and consideration that have been shown to me. But I am deeply conscious that I am just one of many hundreds of thousands of people from Hong Kong and Canada involved in the web of exchanges between us. Indeed, the significance of my visits derives from the strength and the depth of those exchanges.

The question that I'm here to address is whether -- following Hong Kong's historic transfer of sovereignty and in the aftermath of the more recent meltdown of Asian markets -- whether the conditions remain that will sustain our exchanges and our friendship in the years ahead.

Let's look first at the economic conditions. Has Asia gone from miracle to meltdown, is Hong Kong being carried down the plughole with the run-off?

Well, I feel that the "miracle" headlines reflected irrational exuberance on the part of speechwriters and columnist -- and, to be fair, on the part of political leaders too. The troubles now being faced are serious but they are not grounds for irrational despondence. What was happening in Asia was simply what happened in Europe and America years ago, the establishment of patterns of trade, investment, and industrialization that brought growing wealth to fuel further development. What has happened in the latter half of 1997 demonstrated that where markets are not free, where market regulation is poor, where special interest gets protected, distortion of the market takes place and growth cannot be sustained.

Sorting out the mess will be a painful process. But, just as Asian economies were able to benefit from the technology and trade of America and Europe, and so industrialize much faster than those who had only their own trial and error to draw on, so too in the current financial crisis. …

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