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Raising Foreign Interest in Hong Kong

It can be an eye-opening, and sometimes alarming, experience to learn how your country is portrayed by the overseas media. This point was brought home to me recently in a speech given by an eminent Harvard Professor at an Asian Society meeting. He told of his search in US book shops for titles relating to Hong Kong. He could find only three books, the titles of which were: The End of Hong Kong, The Downfall of Hong Kong and Red Flag Over Hong Kong. These titles may appeal to people's natural appetite for drama, but, by sensationalising something in order to make a more interesting story, the actual facts are often neglected or distorted. The end coverage can then portray a very misleading picture.

To correct distorted media coverage abroad, Hong Kong needs informed and influential people to get more involved and to educate people to get more involved and to educate people overseas about what is really happening in Hong Kong. With focus on Hong Kong, and its opinion leaders will be subjected to intense media coverage from all corners of the globe. This will be a good opportunity for the real Hong Kong story to be told.

LegCo's overseas trips have often created opportunities to generate positive media coverage. For example, in February 1996, I wrote in this column about my lobbying efforts for Hong Kong during a visit to Europe as a member of a LegCo delegation. I of course also have frequent occasions to meet in Hong Kong with visiting Senators, Congressmen and fellow Parliamentarians from all over the world. The fact that I am an accountant creates even more opportunities: such was the case, in October 1996, when I joined other senior members of HKSA to make a presentation to IFAC to support our bid to host the World Congress of Accountants 2002. More recently, I also spoke at a dinner hosted by HKSA in a CICPA/HKSA Joint Conference held in Beijing. There again I had the opportunity to speak of Hong Kong's success and potential.

This experience in speaking out for Hong Kong has convinced me that my fellow accountants, who have so many overseas contacts and clients, should also work at transforming these links into valuable opportunities for Hong Kong. We should join together and share the responsibility of giving decision makers around the world the real facts about Hong Kong.

The following points are some of the messages I believe we should be telling our overseas friends.

Firstly, Hong Kong's remarkable history and political culture make it unique. For the majority of Hong Kongers the notion of independence derives more from a state of mind than from the existence of territorial boundaries. Our political agenda is filled predominantly with domestic issues. Steeped in a strong spirit of self-help, Hong Kong people treasure the principle of finding their own solutions to domestic problems and of running Hong Kong themselves. Hong Kong's political agenda reflects the priorities and the vision Hong Kong people share of their future. For overseas countries to maintain a `hands-off' attitude toward Hong Kong's political affairs, is to respect the wishes of the people.

Secondly, there is much evidence to support Hong Kong's case for a `hands-off' approach:

  • Hong Kong people are the real China experts. We have been successfully dealing with this strong neighbour for over 100 years. We share the same language, culture, heritage, history, and many Hong Kongers have strong family ties to the mainland.
  • Many foreign investors already depend on Hong Kong's services, knowledge and experience when doing business in China.
  • Hong Kong people also understand Chinese politics. For the last decade or so, we have worked closely with top political leaders in China to draft the Basic Law and prepare for the transitional government. At the end of the day, we all know that Hong Kong must continue to find practical ways of not only co-existing but also of working constructively with China.

Thirdly, Hong Kong is, with good reason, confident and proud of its present state. The population is made up of more educated and affluent local Chinese than ever before. Many people from this emerging class are committed to, and involved in, local public affairs. They have demonstrated their competence at making decisions in the best interests of Hong Kong. They are articulate, independent thinkers, and conscious of the need to use both domestic and overseas media as a forum for expressing their messages. Freedom of speech and of the press is how democracies flourish anywhere in the world. Although Hong Kong's history of democracy is short, we are starting with a very strong foundation.

Fourthly, Hong Kong has the fantastic advantage of having a stable and dependable civil service. This is a very important point which gets very little recognition. Media coverage is so often confined to politicians and high profile personalities, that a country's underlying support systems can often remain unnoticed. A stable civil service is the backbone of a country. We have seen numerous demonstrations of this during the last decade in countries where, in spite of military, social or political upheavals, a permanent civil service has managed to provide the assurance of stability.

Our civil service should be brought to the attention of the outside world not only for the stability it provides Hong Kong, but also because of the attitude of Hong Kong civil servants which reflects the business orientation of Hong Kong.

The Chief Secretary of the civil service is reported to be taking every opportunity to remind civil servants that it is their duty to be `civil' and `service-oriented'. There is a renewed recognition that the civil service must be business friendly and consumer oriented. The Financial Secretary is keen to develop a full `help business' programme, and there is a clear commitment, under the Basic Law, the preserve the ingredients essential to Hong Kong's economic success. It has always been clear that Hong Kong should maintain an environment which nurtures an enterprising spirit. This will not change simply because there are different people sitting in LegCo.

Like the civil service, our culture of consultation is another source of Hong Kong's stability and strength. Hong Kong's affairs depend on a very strong consultative approach to government. Almost every issue is the focus of very wide consultation. Although people from all walks of life give their opinions, there are usually no radically opposing view points. This is because most of the issues are strictly local and generally produce a narrow spectrum of opinions. Highly controversial issues, such as race or religion, are very rarely the objects of debate and it is thus most unlikely that the internal political set up of Hong Kong will be undermined.

Consultation not only informs people, it also allows them to vent their own feelings. It encourages the respect of others' ideas and fosters the feeling of mutual trust. It also provides a positive platform for the expression of ideas and prevents the use of riots or violent protests as ways of venting frustrations. Another benefit is that once decisions have been reached, they are usually well accepted, and people are prepared to put their differences aside.

My final message would be to remind audiences that it is also very much in China's interest that the handover be as smooth as possible.

  • China's long history has often seen warring factions, causing great divisions, brought back together by wise leaders. By bringing Hong Kong smoothly back, Chinese leaders will ensure themselves a prestigious place in Chinese history.
  • The smooth reunification of Hong Kong with China would also be the perfect demonstration to Taiwan, and could become a blueprint for Taiwanese reunification.
  • And of course Hong Kong is worth far too much to China financially to risk upsetting the economic momentum by creating a difficult transition.

A major financial centre's change of sovereignty, without revolution or bloodshed, is a unique case of tremendous interest to reporters and historians alike.

Hong Kong has earned its reputation as the `Pearl of the Orient'. Our economic success has been legendary. I think, as accountants, we should proclaim to the world our readiness to defend and preserve all of the elements which have contributed to the Hong Kong legend; we should convey our eagerness to view the handover with a spirit of adventure and enterprise. The people of Hong Kong have a long and successful history of managing risk in order to maximise return, of turning risk into opportunity. We must say this, and say it loud enough for the world to hear, to remind those we can reach that little has actually changed and that Hong Kong's legend will live on.

Eric Li
Accountancy Functional Constituency

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