Monday, 4 May 2015

Basic Law cornerstone of HK's success

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam

I am here this evening to tell you, to reassure you, that Hong Kong is alive and thriving, that our future is as promising as the past has been rewarding. That's also true of our relations with the European Union.

 

It was less than a year ago that our Chief Executive CY Leung visited Brussels, meeting with a number of senior EU officials, including the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission.

 

Last November, the EU and Hong Kong held its eighth annual Structured Dialogue in Brussels. At the meeting, Gerhard Sabathil, the Director for North East Asia and the Pacific of the EU's European External Action Service, said that Hong Kong would "continue to play a key role as a regional hub for EU companies and investors."

 

We are certainly attracting EU business. Among the nearly 7,600 Mainland and overseas companies with offices in Hong Kong, over 1,900 are from the EU, with quite a substantial number of them managing their regional operations from Hong Kong.

 

As Mr Sabathil pointed out during the Structured Dialogue, Hong Kong's freedom, rule of law and transparency are our major assets. Indeed, they are among our clear advantages in the Asian region. They have helped fuel Hong Kong's rise as a leading international financial centre and the world’s eighth-largest trading economy.

 

HK-EU trade flourishes

In 2014, trade between Hong Kong and the EU was worth 63 billion euros, making the EU Hong Kong's second-largest trading partner, after the Mainland. Hong Kong was the EU's 16th largest trading partner, sixth in Asia.

 

Our value as a seamless conduit between EU economies and Mainland China was reflected in the 37 billion euros in trade between the Mainland and the EU routed through Hong Kong last year. That, by the way, worked out to 8% of the EU's total trade with Mainland China in 2014.

 

And the EU accounted for nearly 10% of Hong Kong's inward direct investment – some 98 billion euros in all – at the end of 2013. EU capital, as well as EU companies, want to be where the action is, where opportunities continue to rise and shine. That's Asia, of course, in particular, Mainland China. And it all begins in Hong Kong.

 

The rights and freedoms that the people of Hong Kong are enjoying, and enable the international success of Hong Kong, are indeed the guarantees provided in the Basic Law, which is the constitutional document of Hong Kong enacted by the National People's Congress, the legislature of China, exactly 25 years ago.

 

Basic Law underscores success

In fact, the Basic Law is the manifestation, in legal language, of the "one country, two systems" principle, which is the cornerstone of Hong Kong's prosperity and stability since our return to the motherland on July 1, 1997. While we maintain our distinct system, we enjoy the advantages brought about by our relationship with Mainland China as part of "one country".

 

With "two systems", Hong Kong people continue to run Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. We have our own financial system with a fully convertible currency, the Hong Kong dollar.

 

We maintain our own low and simple tax regime and we have our own common law legal system which is based on the English system and underpinned by an independent judiciary. With freedom of speech, we welcome public views – even protest – as long as it is lawful and peaceful.

 

Being part of "one country", and our deepening economic integration in general, allows us to be both China's international financial capital and a leading global financial centre. It's why Hong Kong is the world's offshore renminbi hub, managing about 70% of the world's renminbi payments.

 

Financial milestone

It's also why the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets have been able to join forces. The new Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect is a financial milestone, allowing investors from Hong Kong, and overseas, to trade in more than 500 Shanghai-listed shares through the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, directly, for the first time, while Mainland investors use onshore renminbi funds to invest in shares listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

 

Building on the success of the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect, we are also discussing with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange a similar arrangement, which we hope can be materialised by the end of this year.

 

And, as Mainland China's new Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road programmes emerge, I'm confident that Hong Kong will be a central player. Confident, thanks to our global connections and our financial and professional services expertise. Confident, too, thanks to "one country, two systems" – Hong Kong's good-as-24-carat-gold-guarantee of continuing economic development.

 

I talked about the Basic Law earlier. It does not only enable our economic success, it is also a solemn promise on the democratic development of Hong Kong by the Central Authorities, as it provides for the ultimate goal of selecting the Chief Executive of Hong Kong by universal suffrage, with candidates nominated by a broadly representative nominating committee elected by people from different sectors of Hong Kong.

 

Proposals flow from consultation

On April 22, less than two weeks ago, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government published the consultation report and proposals on the method for selecting the Chief Executive.

 

The proposals follow two rounds of public consultation - 16 months in all, from December 2013 to March 2015. During these two rounds of consultation, the Task Force that I led, together with several relevant officials, attended over 300 consultation sessions and activities and over 260,000 written submissions were received.

 

The aspiration of Hong Kong people for electing the Chief Executive by one person, one vote was crystal clear and it was generally accepted that given Hong Kong's constitutional status as a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, any electoral arrangement has to comply with the Basic Law and the relevant decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

 

I spoke at the Legislative Council on the same day that the consultation report and proposals were tabled. I made it clear then, and I'm happy to repeat it here: the most pressing objective now is to make it happen, to implement universal suffrage so that 5 million eligible Hong Kong voters can elect the next Chief Executive in just two years' time.

 

Universal suffrage key

If we can gain two-thirds' majority in LegCo, we can make history in Hong Kong. We can choose our next Chief Executive by universal suffrage - one person, one vote.

 

That, as they say, is the big picture. As for the details, well, that's an even bigger picture. The key point, perhaps, is that proposals - of any kind, anywhere - are generally shaped by their roots.

 

Hong Kong's universal suffrage springs directly from the Basic Law. Hong Kong is not a sovereign state but a special administrative region of China. The Central Authorities have the legal authority to determine the systems implemented in Hong Kong, including our political system.

 

Because of that, we must take into account the relationship between Central Authorities and the Hong Kong SAR when deriving the electoral methods for the Chief Executive. This necessarily, and reasonably, imposes boundaries, limits, on what we can do.

 

Diverse views trigger protest

Not surprisingly, on controversial matters such as constitutional development, there are diverse views in the Hong Kong community. That, in turn, set in motion Hong Kong's 79-day illegal Occupy movement. I'm proud to say that, over those 79 days, there were no serious casualties, no significant crimes committed or corruption revealed.

 

On that latter point, allow me a brief digression. As you may know, there were a few high-profile corruption cases in Hong Kong over the past year or so. Rather than indicating a weakening of law and order in Hong Kong, they demonstrated our determination to fight corruption without fear or favour.

 

Indeed, the convictions concerned only reaffirmed the independence of our judiciary and the robustness of our criminal justice system. And the heavy penalties imposed by the court in these cases sent a clear message: that corruption will never be tolerated in Hong Kong.

 

As for the Occupy movement, the public, the police, the Government - indeed, everyone involved - showed extraordinary restraint. And, in the end, they displayed the pragmatism for which Hong Kong has long been known.

 

Safe, stable city

Despite all the challenges, the world can see that Hong Kong is a safe and orderly place, even during the 79 days. Our financial market and banking system were operating smoothly. The local and international media had complete freedom to cover the protests. Internet continued to work smoothly.

 

Ours is a pluralistic and open society. And I understand, and appreciate, our community's wide range of views regarding constitutional development. If it is to move forward, however, we must find common ground.

 

That's what our proposals are designed to accomplish: to select the next Chief Executive through a system of universal suffrage that is constitutionally and legally sound, that is fair and reasonable, and that responds to political realities.

 

Constitutionality critical

It is a golden opportunity for Hong Kong's political progress and it is also just a beginning.

 

If we can make it happen, the new Chief Executive, and his or her Government, will have the political mandate necessary to take constitutional development forward. Because democracy is never a one-shot wonder, fully formed and perfectly functioning at birth. Rather, it is a gradual, ever-evolving process.

 

Indeed, if universal suffrage in the election of the Chief Executive is put in place for 2017, the next term HKSAR Government will have to deliver the other commitment to elect all members of the Legislative Council through universal suffrage.

 

In this respect, I note that in its latest annual report on Hong Kong released two weeks ago, the EU supports the introduction of universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 and for the Legislative Council by 2020 in line with the Basic Law.

 

I must reiterate that constitutionality is the first and foremost principle in the design of our electoral reform proposals. We are at a critical moment - success or failure in giving 5 million eligible voters in Hong Kong the right to elect the next Chief Executive in 2017 will be decided in less than two months' time.

 

For Hong Kong's future, the task force I lead will spare no efforts in engaging the public and lobbying LegCo members for their support.

 

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam gave these remarks at a reception for European Parliament members in Brussels.


Regards,
Otmane El Rhazi
Department of Commerce
Economic Development
Text/Mobile, +44 7414 782 320

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