CE's speech at Asia Pacific Dental Congress opening
Following is the speech by the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, at the opening ceremony of the 26th Asia Pacific Dental Congress at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre this (May 29) evening:
President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be among you today to officiate at the opening ceremony of the 26th Asia Pacific Dental Congress organised by the Asia Pacific Dental Federation and Hong Kong Dental Association.
Given this opportunity to address you, I wish to, first of all, tell you, particularly those from overseas, about what has been happening in Hong Kong recently.
Over the past six years, Hong Kong's economy has been undergoing a difficult process of restructuring. Restructuring has been painful and protracted for several important reasons. First, we inherited a serious bubble economy and a mismatch of human resources that is required for a knowledge-based economy. Second, the sudden onset of the financial crises in 1997 in Asia
pierced the bubble economy, leading to a drop in property prices of 70%, the evaporation of personal wealth and for many people, the problem of negative equity. The serious adverse impact of these had contributed to continued deflation. Third, this is the age of globalisation and globalisation means the migration of jobs from high-cost economies, like Hong Kong, to
lower-cost economies elsewhere, leading to job losses and reduced income here in Hong Kong, for almost 90% of our working families. Fourth, the adverse economic situation has affected public finances, causing serious budget deficits. If not dealt with properly, this will undermine our linked exchange rate and the stability of our financial markets. However, dealing with it
too harshly and hastily will seriously affect people's livelihoods and at the same time, the momentum of economic recovery.
To many citizens of Hong Kong, falling property prices and household income, as well as painful budgetary measures have understandably created grievances and anger while at the same time high levels of unemployment and uncertainty of future job prospects have created anxiety and frustration. Businesses too had to face enormous challenges as deflation deepened, consumer
spending shrank and business activities declined. In the middle of all that, Hong Kong was hit by SARS. It has indeed been a difficult time for all of us.
To understand the seriousness of the situation we faced, our GDP deflator has fallen 21% in the last five and a half years. To find comparable figures, we will have to go back to the time of the Great Depression in the United States of America when the GDP deflator had fallen 26.7% in the four-year period between 1929 and 1933. In Hong Kong, we had indeed faced enormous
difficulties. But our people persevered in face of these difficulties and our financial market and banking system stood the test of stress and strain imposed by the economic downturn. Indeed, what has happened in Hong Kong speaks of the tremendous resilience and strength of our society and its institutions that we have withstood such a storm without leading to political,
social and economic breakdown.
Throughout this period of time, in addition to the dealing of the constant challenges facing us every day, we in the government also frequently and carefully evaluated the challenges and opportunities posed by the changes on the Mainland and indeed around the world. What are our own competitive strengths and weaknesses and what are those of our competitors? How can we
emerge from the restructuring and be more successful than at any time in our history? One thing is clear - we have benefited greatly from the rapid and orderly development of the Chinese economy, an economy which last year continued to be the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world, the fourth largest trading nation in the world as well as potentially
one of the largest consumer markets in the world. China has also become the largest and most efficient manufacturing base in the world.
It was clear that Hong Kong's future depends on ensuring access to the Mainland market for our businesses and our professionals, and on building on our capacities to service the trade and investment needs of the Mainland. An FTA-type agreement between Hong Kong and the Mainland, subsequently named CEPA ("Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement"), would be a tremendous
benefit to us. It was also clear that while ensuring greater access to the Mainland market, we also needed to work with our colleagues in the Guangdong Provincial Government to ensure that we would be a major player in the growth of the Pearl River Delta and beyond. It was important for Hong Kong's future to arrive at a broad understanding on co-operation between the
respective governments to ensure that our economic strategies did not work at cross purposes. Similarly, we realised for Hong Kong to sustain its position as Asia's leading financial centre, we must, in the long run, be an offshore Renminbi centre. Allowing our banks to do Renminbi business would be a good start.
Therefore, throughout the last few years, we were exploring with the Central Government as to how Hong Kong's competitive advantages can best be leveraged to the benefit of the Mainland and how Central Government can help us eventually emerge from our economic restructuring. These discussions accelerated in 2002 and came into fruition during 2003 with the signing of CEPA
on June 29, 2003 here in Hong Kong.
In addition to these factors, we focused on other macro perspectives. We invested heavily in education and encouraged life-long learning. We strove to improve the living environment not only because we owe it to ourselves but also to ensure we can attract talent from overseas and the Mainland. We embarked on a road to encourage innovation and technology, creativity and
design so that services we render and products we produce can move up the value chain and compete in a global economy. All at the same time, we worked hard to ensure Hong Kong would continue to possess a safe and orderly society, judicial independence, a level playing field, well-developed infrastructure, simple and low taxes, a clean government and highly efficient public
services and the preservation of all kinds of freedom, such as the freedom of information, the freedom of the press. These are all fundamental, critical success factors that are important for Hong Kong's future.
We have indeed gone through a prolonged period of difficulties. But, in every cloud there is of course a silver lining. Since the second half of last year, our economy has begun to rebound. Confidence level has increased. Property prices have stabilised and are edging up. Deflation is easing. Unemployment rate has at last begun to decline. Yesterday, we just announced the
growth of the first quarter GDP reached 6.8%. I also stated that it is possible that the growth will reach double-digit in the second quarter of this year. Although there are uncertainties further down the road, I am optimistic about our economy as we forge ahead.
Ladies and gentlemen, I know you would want me to cover the issue of the future constitutional development here in Hong Kong. First of all, let me point out that legally, the Central Authorities have the right and responsibility to guide the constitutional development in Hong Kong. In April, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress had, in accordance with
the Basic Law, promulgated the interpretation and adopted the decision with regards to the selection of the Chief Executive and the formation of the Legislative Council in 2007 and 2008 respectively. The Government will move forward in accordance with the interpretation and the decision. As we move forward in this process, we will widely consult all sectors in Hong Kong.
We are confident in developing an arrangement for the 2007 and 2008 elections that is in the best interest of Hong Kong. Constitutional development must progress in a gradual and orderly manner and in accordance with the actual situation in Hong Kong. But let me emphasise, universal suffrage remains our ultimate aim.
Now I come back to the business of the day.
Some 40 years ago the dental problem of Hong Kong people was serious, and particularly so among children. Thanks to the joint efforts of our dental profession working in both the public and the private sectors, the oral health of Hong Kong people has, of course, much improved today. The level of tooth decay of our population is comparable to those of the developed
economies, and that for our children is one of the lowest in the world.
A significant part of this achievement can be attributed to the excellent work of our dental school, the Faculty of Dentistry in the University of Hong Kong and to the professionals here. We are very lucky to have been able to attract top researchers from more than a dozen countries in our dental school, who have made it now one of the best in the region. Through the
comprehensive programmes in the spectrum of disciplines encompassing almost all fields of dentistry, their team of dedicated staff has produced a new type of skilled, compassionate and award-winning graduates, who form the linchpin of the dental profession in Hong Kong.
Equally important, they have pioneered new aspects of the dental science, leading to a unique melting pot of ideas that moulds the practice of dentistry, and have promoted Hong Kong as an international centre for excellence in dental research. Today, the Faculty is recognised as the leading research centre in the region in areas like clinical oral microbiology, bone
biology, dental materials and treatment of oral diseases.
So, I am sure that with the opportunities provided by this function for top dental experts from all over the world to meet together, this Congress will be an excellent platform for participants to discuss, exchange and crystallise frontier knowledge of your profession.
With the hardware and software well in place, we have indeed set the ground for the highly qualified and well-trained dental profession to export our dental care services to our neighbours in the region, especially the Mainland, and develop Hong Kong into a dental services hub for Asia.
In this regard, I am happy to see the Hong Kong Dental Association, which has been making significant contributions to the development of dental profession in Hong Kong since 1950, has been proactive in promoting cooperation between the dental professions of Hong Kong and the Mainland. I do understand that our dental school has the same vision to collaborate with the
Mainland academic institutions for a number of focused education and research programmes.
Hong Kong is honoured to be host of the 26th Asia Pacific Dental Congress. I welcome the overseas delegates to this Congress, and am sure that they will have fruitful exchanges and a pleasant stay in Hong Kong.
With these remarks, I announce the 26th Asia Pacific Dental Congress officially open.
Thank you very much.
Ends/Saturday, May 29,2004