The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, today (July 14, Vancouver time) updated an audience of Canadian businessmen on the latest developments in Hong Kong on its co-operation with the Mainland, the economic situation and constitutional development.
Mr Lam was addressing a luncheon of the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association, Vancouver Chapter, during a private visit to the Canadian city.
In his speech, entitled "Free Trade and Democracy : Hong Kong's Future", Mr Lam said that Hong Kong had always been a free society, an open economy and a jurisdiction governed by rule of law, and with the move towards universal suffrage between now and 2017, Hong Kong would mature even further as a civilised and democratic community.
With further co-operation with the Mainland, Hong Kong's position as the pre-eminent international financial centre in Asia would be strengthened, he said. He encouraged Canadian businessmen to continue to invest in Hong Kong. By so doing, they would be investing in Canada's future.
Mr Lam said that the signing in 2003 of the "Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement" (CEPA), a free trade agreement with the Mainland, had brought more economic growth and prosperity to Hong Kong. Between 2003 and 2008, Hong Kong's GDP increased by 35.4% in real terms.
"The CEPA puts Hong Kong in a very favourable light internationally. Hong Kong was the first economy to conclude such an arrangement with Beijing. As a result, between 2003 and 2008, the number of regional headquarters and offices established in Hong Kong increased by 20% to more than 3,800.
"In the meantime, because the CEPA allowed Mainland residents to come and visit Hong Kong as individual travellers, the tourist traffic from the Mainland to Hong Kong increased substantially. In 2008, we had more than 29 million tourists visiting Hong Kong, about 60% i.e. almost 17 million, came from Mainland China," he said.
Mr Lam noted that the progress made in the last six years in strengthening its economy had prepared Hong Kong well for withstanding the impact of the global financial tsunami.
"The Hong Kong Government holds substantial reserves. Our fiscal reserves stand at $530 billion and our foreign exchange reserves at $1.380 trillion.
"Also, because our banks and financial institutions had survived the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, their balance sheets were relatively healthier than those of their United States or European counterparts. Their business practice is relatively more prudent. Thus, no banks in Hong Kong have failed, nor do any require government capital injections," he said.
While noting that the financial tsunami had had some impact on Hong Kong's employment, with the unemployment rate increasing from a base of 3.2% last year to 5.3% currently, Mr Lam added that this had begun to stabilise.
Turning to the portfolio of Mainland affairs, Mr Lam outlined the prospects of Hong Kong's further co-operation with Mainland China, now the third largest economy in the world and might overtake Japan as the second largest economy further down the road.
Mr Lam said that in the light of the financial tsunami, the Mainland Authorities had taken many steps to sustain economic growth for 2009 at eight per cent and that this boded well for Hong Kong in view of its extensive investment on the Mainland, particularly in Southern China.
"Currently, there are more than 100,000 Hong Kong factories and companies employing more than 10 million workers in the Pearl River Delta and in Guangdong," he said.
"The coastal regions of China are particularly well developed. In the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, the per capita GDP exceeds RMB30,000. By comparison with the West and with Hong Kong, the cost of living is still relatively low on the Mainland. Thus, in PPP terms, these per capita incomes would have quite an impressive purchasing power," he added.
Mr Lam pointed out that Hong Kong would map out a broader strategy for tapping the massive Mainland market for the next 20 or 30 years. In this regard, the Central Government had provided Hong Kong with precisely that opportunity with the issuing of the "Framework for Development and Reform Planning for Pearl River Delta Region" in January this year.
"The essence of this document is to facilitate closer co-operation between Guangdong and Hong Kong to ensure that Hong Kong's professionals and service industries will gain even better access to the Mainland market. For example, under the supplemental agreements to the CEPA concluded in 2008 and 2009, subject to certain conditions, our accountants, doctors and lawyers can already gain access to the market in Guangdong.
"Subject to successful implementation of these measures in Guangdong, we intend to broaden our involvement in the service industries in other regions of Mainland China.
"Our strategy is very simple. At the moment, about 90% of Hong Kong's GDP is composed of services. We wish to take two steps to extend our horizons. Firstly, we need to go beyond our local Hong Kong market of seven million people to the 50 million in Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta. Thereafter, we intend to extend the market for our professional and service providers to cover more than 400 million people in the Pan-Pearl River Delta provinces comprising nine provinces in southern and western China," he said.
"Since 2004, we have already established an economic co-operation forum with these nine provinces."
As for the prospects of democratic development in Hong Kong, Mr Lam said Hong Kong had attained a timetable for achieving the ultimate aim, as stipulated in the Basic Law, of returning by universal suffrage the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council. The Chief Executive may be so returned in 2017 and thereafter, in 2020, all members of the Legislative Council may be returned by universal suffrage.
The Government would seek to bring the electoral system to a mid-way point in 2012. Public consultations would be held in the fourth quarter of this year, focusing in particular on the Chief Executive and Legislative Council election proposals for 2012, he said.
Mr Lam explained, "In 2007, when Mr Donald Tsang stood for election for the third-term Chief Executive, he undertook that he hoped to forge consensus within the community on the issue of universal suffrage within the new term of office, so as to implement universal suffrage as soon as possible.
"On July 11, 2007, the Administration published the 'Green Paper on Constitutional Development'. Following three months of pubic consultation, in December 2007, the Chief Executive submitted to Beijing a report basically proposing that a universal suffrage timetable be adopted.
"Beijing responded positively and decided that the Chief Executive may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017 and that thereafter, in 2020, all members of the Legislative Council may also be returned by universal suffrage."
Mr Lam said this was a momentous development for Hong Kong because the community had been debating about the direction and pace for rolling forward democracy for more than 20 years.
"Now that we have a universal suffrage timetable, the stage is set for Hong Kong to mature as a democratic jurisdiction in the course of the next decade.
"Both the Government and political parties in Hong Kong have a clear responsibility to turn this into a reality for the people of Hong Kong," he stressed.
Ends/Wednesday, July 15, 2009
SCMA gives Canadian audience update on Hong Kong (1)
The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, Mr Stephen Lam, today (July 14, Vancouver time) updates an audience of some 130 Vancouver businessmen on the latest developments in Hong Kong, including its cooperation with Mainland China, the city's economic situation and constitutional development, at a luncheon seminar organised by the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association (Vancouver section).
SCMA gives Canadian audience update on Hong Kong (2)
With guests at the luncheon event are Chair of the Federation of Hong Kong Business Associations Worldwide, Mr Barry MacDonald (left), Vice-President of Cathay Pacific Mr Chris Vanden Hooven (second left), Member of Parliament Mrs Alice Wong (fourth left), Mr Lam (centre), HKETO Director Ms Maureen Siu (third right), HKCBA (Vancouver section) President Mr Craig Lindsay (second right) and Chief of Economic and Commercial Office of Chinese Consulate General in Vancouver Consul Mr Yuan Zhanling (right).
SCMA gives Canadian audience update on Hong Kong (3)
Mr Lam presents a Beijing Olympic Equestrian events Commemorative Medallion to Vancouver Mayor Mr Gregor Robertson.
SCMA gives Canadian audience update on Hong Kong (4)
Mr Stephen Lam (second right) with City Councillor Mr Raymond Louie (left), Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (second left) and Ms Maureen Siu after the courtesy call.