In her first speech since leaving the top spot in Hong Kong's Civil Service, former Chief Secretary Anson Chan delivered a message of cautious hope for the future of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) under the "One Country, Two Systems' formula.
"It is easy to overlook just how successful that transition has been, although I would not try to conceal the fact that we have had to deal with some very difficult issues. We will most likely face some tough challenges in the future too. But ["One Country, Two Systems" is working…"]
Although proud of Hong Kong's "almost seamless" reunification with the Mainland after more than 155 years of separation, Mrs. Chan addressed some of the skeptics in the international community who worry about the fundamentals of Hong Kong's key institutions.
"It is important for our international friends, as well as people in Hong Kong, to know and understand that we remain committed to maintaining the pillars of our society that set us apart from other parts of our country, and other countries in the region. The rule of law upheld by an independent judiciary; a level playing field for business; the free flow of information, capital and goods; and a clean administration are as fundamental to our development in the future as they have been in the past five, 10 or 50 years."
She cited Hong Kong's immediate and comprehensive support of the War on Terrorism as an example of Hong Kong's unwavering commitment to the global community and the role it plays in it.
Since Sept. 11, Hong Kong has expanded its Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering ability to target terrorist financing and quickly implemented U.N. resolutions that make it difficult for terrorists to fund their activities. And recently Hong Kong and the U.S. Customs Service signed a Declaration of Principles on the U.S.'s Container Security Initiative. As one of the busiest ports in the world, Chan said, "…we not only have a vested interest, but a responsibility, to help enhance the security of the global maritime trading system. We do willingly and gladly."
After five consecutive years as the world's freest economy, according to The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, Mrs. Chan knows freedom is not just about tax rates, tariffs and trade access.
"It's about having the freedom to read what you like whether it be a newspaper, a magazine, or on the Internet; it's about speaking your mind, whether it makes sense or not; it's about having the freedom to come and go as you please; it's about settling your differences in court with a tried and trusted legal system; it's about going to mosque on Friday, the synagogue on Saturday, or the church on Sunday without fear of attack or reprisal."
Though many foreign critics remain cynical about the future of Hong Kong's "unfettered" media, Chan assured the audience that open discourse remains alive and well on the airwaves and opinion pages of Hong Kong's media outlets.
"Seen from afar, these lively exchanges might sometimes be regarded as evidence that our systems are under considerable stress. But, in my view, this type of frank and open debate is the glue that binds our society together. Heaven help us if the Fourth Estate becomes less forthright."
In addition to maintaining a vigorous press, Mrs. Chan hopes the legislature's debate on Article 23 is equally vigorous. Considered Hong Kong's litmus test for freedom, Article 23 states that Hong Kong will enact laws, on its own, to prohibit any act of treasons, secession, sedition and subversion against the Central Government. It also requires Hong Kong to enact laws that address the theft of state secrets and to prohibit political activities by foreign political organizations in Hong Kong.
Chan noted that few new laws will be needed in order to implement Article 23. She quells worries that any newly enacted laws would violate Hong Kong's long history of protecting human rights and freedoms.
"And to protect fundamental rights and freedoms which are guaranteed in the Basic Law, in particular the freedom of expression that is so important in Hong Kong, very tight definitions of offenses have been formulated."
Mrs. Chan was confident that a number of proposals and ideas would be debated during the three-month consultation period, but she did offer two points to keep in mind during debate over Article 23.
"One, our own legislature will debate this matter fully and comprehensively. They will no doubt be well aware of their constituents' views, as well as the keen eye that the international community will be keeping on Hong Kong as consultations progress. Two, the laws that are eventually passed will be interpreted by our own courts, which draw on a long history of law experience. They have shown themselves to be fully cognizant of the international legal benchmarks by which Hong Kong is judged, and I have every confidence that they [the courts] will continue to do so in the finest tradition of an impartial and independent judiciary."
Though optimistic Mrs. Chan admitted Article 23 presents a challenge for the citizens of Hong Kong.
"Article 23 legislation is arguably the most important and sensitive legislation we have to face since reunification. Its impact on our freedoms and our life style is far reaching. We should encourage the widest possible debate."
In addition to the mounting debate over Article 23, Hong Kong is also facing significant economic challenges in the shadow of China's rapid economic growth. Mrs. Chan believes Hong Kong is in a unique position as an "international city and an Asia hub, as well as a window on the world for China."
Chan said the people of Hong Kong know they must more closely align their efforts with the opening up of Mainland's market. ["I am confident we will emerge from our present difficulties stronger and better able to benefit from Mainland China's steady growth."]
"…We are enhancing competitiveness by adding value in key economic drivers such as financial services, transport and logistics, tourism, and producer and professional services. We have always excelled in these areas but now we must further hone these skills and attractions to more closely gel with the needs of the Mainland market and the international business community that is also looking for a foothold there."
After five years as a Special Administrative Region, Mrs. Chan reminded her fellow Hong Kong citizens that what happens now will determine what happens in the future and will determine whether "One Country, Two Systems" is ultimately successful.
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