With the full support of the central government in Beijing, "One Country, Two Systems" puts Hong Kong in a prime position to capture the economic opportunities arising from the reform, development and opening-up of the Chinese mainland, said Clement Leung, Hong Kong Commissioner to the United States. [Special coverage]
While making full use of the opportunities, Hong Kong can still retain its autonomy to make its own laws and determine its own trade and economic policies, he noted.
"This has given businesses the trust, confidence and predictability to thrive in the region," said Leung at a Gala Dinner to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on Wednesday at a hotel in downtown New York.
Leung recalled when the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong was signed in 1984, "there was a lot of anxiety. There's no historical precedent for 'One Country, Two Systems.' People were not sure whether the concept would work."
"Back then, we had a confidence crisis: thousands of middle class professionals emigrated to foreign countries. Some Hong Kong companies moved their domiciles abroad," he said.
Fortune magazine even pronounced the "Death of Hong Kong" in a 1995 cover story which said "Hong Kong's future can be summed up in two words: It's over."
"What's indisputably dying is Hong Kong's role as a vibrant international commercial and financial hub," Fortune declared.
STILL THE SHINING BEACON
"This has been an amazing journey for us. Over the past two decades, there were ups and downs. Hong Kong took its challenges in stride and emerged stronger after each crisis," Leung said.
Hong Kong continues to be successful as the premier international business center in Asia and it is ranked as the freest and the most competitive economy of the world, he said, adding "we achieve a state of full employment in our labor market, lowest crime rate in 44 years. And our life expectancy is longer than that of Japan."
Not only have Hong Kong emigrants returned from Canada, Australia and Britain, but the Pearl of the Orient now has a strong inflow of expatriates with its American population having nearly doubled and the French population tripled since the handover, Leung said.
Hong Kong is still that shining beacon of free trade, open markets, and the rule of law, with low taxes, a level playing field for local and foreign companies alike, a high degree of transparency, and zero tolerance for corruption, Leung said.
Hong Kong has also been maintaining a robust relationship with the United States, the commissioner said.
"We continue to enjoy a strong bilateral relationship with the United States, being the ninth-largest export market for American goods and a close law enforcement partner."
Other than Hong Kong's pillar sectors of trade, finance, tourism and professional services, new sectors and opportunities have emerged. These include the development of Hong Kong as the largest center for off-shore RMB business, implementation of the Stock Connect programs that enable international investors to access the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets, Hong Kong's vibrant innovation and technology start-up ecosystem, wine auction and distribution, arts, culture and creative industries, as well as the Belt and Road Initiative.
FUTURE BRIGHT, CHALLENGES REMAIN
He expressed his confidence in the future of Hong Kong because "successive generations of Chinese leaders want Hong Kong to succeed and our people continue to have this 'can do' spirit to get things done, because the rule of law is rock solid and our judiciary is fiercely independent."
But he said "While we can be solidly united for a common purpose, we can be sharply divided and polarized on sensitive political and livelihood issues. Such differences are exacerbated by generational divides and income disparity."
"Remember that we just had a heart transplant? While the transition was smooth, we need time and space to adjust to this new constitutional order, particularly on issues involving the interface of the Hong Kong system with the mainland system," he said.
Leung also asked people to bear in mind that Hong Kong, like anywhere else, is not perfect. "While we have done a lot of things right, we make mistakes and occasionally we fumble. Often times, we do not explain ourselves very well, and that is why we have our share of negative coverage."
"But that makes 'One Country, Two Systems' more authentic and real. You should be more worried about Hong Kong if all you hear is good news from us," he said.