I am currently on a visit to Washington, D.C. and New York along with my Legislative Council colleague Charles Mok Nai-kwong and former Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, making the trip at the invitation of the White House National Security Council.
During the trip we are going to meet with quite a number of key United States groups and figures such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, officials of the Department of State responsible for drafting an evaluation report on the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act, as well as members of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC).
As one can expect, our visit this time will be focused on the issue of how to maintain normal trade relations between Hong Kong and the US.
While some recent remarks made by the US Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau, Kurt Tong, have drawn considerable public attention and even triggered a diplomatic debate between Washington and Beijing, one should remember that Tong wrote a newspaper article at the end of last year saying that US-Hong Kong relations have remained good over the years.
For example, American companies currently rank No. 3 in number among all foreign enterprises in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the US has remained the territory’s second largest commodity export market.
Hong Kong is also a major re-export hub between the US and the mainland, with the value of re-exported goods between them accounting for over 40 percent of the city’s total commodity trade volume.
One important reason why Hong Kong has been able to maintain its status as a world-class commercial and trade hub since the 1980s is that we are open to the global market.
After Beijing started a policy of economic reform and opening up in the late 1970s, Hong Kong has become a bridge between foreign investors and the mainland.
Although economic ties between Hong Kong and the mainland have become increasingly closer since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong’s economic activities with other countries around the world still constitute an irreplaceable chunk in the local economy.
Now, while Hong Kong proactively takes part in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area plan, the government needs to ensure that it will simultaneously step up efforts to explore further trade and business opportunities with the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, while the SAR administration has been staying focused overwhelmingly on the Greater Bay Area project, it has done a relatively poor job in enhancing economic cooperation with other parts of the world.
At present, Hong Kong is either member or signatory of a number of key international trade organizations and multilateral trade agreements, such as the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
We are able to do so because even though the city is not a sovereign state, it is a separate customs area, which is an overriding, if not the only, criterion adopted by international trade bodies and trade agreements for deciding whether a region is eligible to join them.
Under Article 116 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong “shall be a separate customs territory”, and the HKSAR “may, using the name ‘Hong Kong, China’, participate in relevant international organizations and international trade agreements (including preferential trade arrangements)”.
However, it is also other governments, not just us or Beijing, that have their authority to evaluate, define, and thus decide whether Hong Kong fulfills the necessary requirements as a separate customs area.
Like during my previous visit to the US, this time I am going to convey the true facts about the current state of affairs and latest developments in Hong Kong to members of the American political and business sectors.
Meanwhile, I will express hope that the US political sector can, at this stage, stick to the existing US-Hong Kong Policy Act and continue to treat the city as a separate customs area.
Nevertheless, in face of the increasingly frequent and heavy-handed measures from Beijing and the SAR government that threaten to undermine the civil rights and freedom of local citizens and expats in Hong Kong, I will suggest to the American political sector that it should pay closer attention to the situation in Hong Kong, and revisit the US policy on the territory more frequently.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 21
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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