US-Hong Kong Relations: Building on Success

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(Photo credit: The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong)

(This article first appeared in the October issue and is republished with the American Chamber of Commerce’s permission.)


In his first public speech since assuming the post of US Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau, USCG Kurt W Tong places a great emphasis on the unique arrangement under which Hong Kong has flourished and continued to prosper, reinforcing the “close and friendly” US-Hong Kong relationship built upon a shared respect for certain fundamental freedoms and core values critical to Hong Kong’s success as a global hub for international finance and trade

Speaking on the success story of Hong Kong and the existing US-Hong Kong relationship in his first public speech since assuming the post of US Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau in late August, USCG Kurt W Tong placed a great emphasis on the unique arrangement under which Hong Kong has flourished and continued to prosper, and how “we all can work together to build on that success.”

“You don’t have to look far to find many examples of the strength of our relationship and of the ways in which the US-Hong Kong partnership is beneficial for both our societies as well as for the other parts of China,” he says. “Hong Kong remains the most sophisticated financial center in Asia, where important economic players from the US, China, and other nations congregate to organise, manage and finance investments all around the world.”

US-Hong Kong Links

Strengths of the US-Hong Kong relationship include the close and friendly cooperation between the monetary authorities and financial regulatory authorities of the two jurisdictions, Tong notes. In addition, economic ties are supported by strong law enforcement cooperation in a wide range of areas, including drug interdiction and customs security. “This not only benefits both our economies and societies but also makes the rest of the world a safer place as well.”

The logistics capabilities of Hong Kong, with the world’s top cargo airport and one of the top five shipping ports, are big reasons why the US on the other side of the Pacific Ocean remains Hong Kong’s second largest trading partner after Mainland China, he says. “In fact, Hong Kong is America’s 10th largest export market and a key destination for high-quality US products including US beef and wine.”

Likewise, Hong Kong is China’s primary link for investment flows to the rest of the world, and it is a conduit for over 60 percent of all outbound investment from the Mainland, he also points out. “For that reason, Hong Kong is very attractive for US service providers aiming to facilitate investment into the United States – and we are delighted to help facilitate that investment through our SelectUSA program.”

Beyond economics, Tong says, is the profound people-to-people ties that characterise the US-HK relationship, including the area of education for which Hong Kong ranks 20th in terms of the number of undergraduates studying in the US. Academic and professional exchange programs for US and Hong Kong students and working professionals have also had a significant impact, he believes.

“One Fulbright scholar from Hong Kong who did research in the US on prevention of domestic violence told us that her research was transformed from a local concern to a global undertaking. And one of the American scholars who came to Hong Kong in 2015 said it was the best year of his and his family’s life, praising Hong Kong’s educational institutions and international community.”

“We aim to welcome even more Hong Kong students and tourists to America. That’s why we continue to streamline the visa appointment process,” he adds. “During my tenure as Consul General, you will probably hear a lot from me about our efforts to expand tourism to the US because this is really important from both an economic angle and a cultural angle and because the US is actually an under-tapped tourism opportunity for people from Asia.”

Foundation of Success

What makes Hong Kong so special? It is all the things that make it a great place to live, according to Tong. “Hong Kong is known worldwide for combining all the excitement and conveniences of a modern cosmopolitan city with a rich Chinese cultural heritage. Hong Kong’s unique geography also makes it special – it boasts a stunning urban skyline, but also beautiful countryside and beaches.”

“And of course Hong Kong’s status as a food destination is well known as well. But there are other, more important things that make Hong Kong special that may not be so obvious, and these are just as critical to Hong Kong’s identity and success,” he says. “Hong Kong’s impressive human resources rival any market in the world. Its smart, motivated young people comprise a deep pool of talented professionals, and they are a magnet for international business and investment.”

Hong Kong’s strong rule of law, transparency and openness are the basis for business and trade to succeed here, Tong emphasises. “Everyone says it, because it is true. The independence of the Hong Kong judiciary as well as the objectivity and fair-mindedness of Hong Kong’s economic and financial regulators are critically important to the city’s success.”

The construct of “one country, two systems” is what has made Hong Kong highly successful as an open society, he says. “It is the key framework that makes all this specialness possible and sustainable over time. Not only is it a very unique and special reality, but also a construct that both China’s central government and the people of Hong Kong as well as the United States all aim to maintain.”

“This does not mean anyone can be complacent. Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ construct is something that requires care and attention to maintain,” he continues. “Hong Kong is definitely part of China. But Hong Kong also exists as one of the world’s leading cities, and it would be a great loss to the global commons economically as well as culturally if Hong Kong were to somehow lose its specialness.”

And more importantly, the United States and the people of Hong Kong share an abiding respect for certain fundamental freedoms and certain core values, and these values are as much a part of Hong Kong’s success as its well-deserved reputation for efficiency as a global hub for international finance and trade, Tong stresses. “We share values like freedom of expression, of the press, and of assembly as well as academic freedom and open space for critical debate.”

The record turnout in the number of Hong Kong voters “lining up late into election night” to exercise their freedom to participate in choosing the city’s legislature is a reflection of “how much people here are committed to the idea of democratic participation in politics,” he believes. “I hope to arrange meetings with all 70 Legislative Council members. Our Consulate team is ready to talk about US-Hong Kong relations with anyone, regardless of their political views.”

Challenges Ahead

Similar to the United States, Hong Kong is facing the issue of remaining economically competitive, Tong points out. “Like many leading international financial centers, Hong Kong is seeking to ensure its future prosperity amid a technological revolution that is reshaping labor and capital the world over. In that context, it is clearly in our shared interest to work together to keep Hong Kong competitive as a regional hub for business, trade and finance.”

“As a highly advanced economy, we need to re-match the US workforce to the demands of recent technologies, and make sure that our education system and national infrastructure meet critical needs,” he explains. “One way is by working together to create an environment conducive to innovation, and an example is the Consulate’s Smart Technologies Initiative to help forge trans-Pacific business partnerships offering advanced US technologies to Hong Kong.”

Another key challenge of the 21st Century challenge is the question of inclusive growth, Tong says. “There is real value in sharing ideas and strategies for addressing income disparity and creating economic opportunities for young people. Hong Kong, like the US, is a place of diversity and contrasts, and we have a responsibility to work together to ensure all members of our society’s rights are respected and their voices heard, regardless of economic status, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

“In a time of global economic uncertainty and increasing income disparity in many countries, including my own, a top challenge for all societies is to provide economic opportunities for young people so that they can feel confident in their futures,” he notes. “And there is work to be done on both sides to combat trafficking in persons and improve the protection of intellectual property rights.”

The US, Hong Kong and other neighboring countries across the Asia Pacific region can benefit “mightily” from continued US economic and diplomatic engagement, Tong highlights. “It is largely a question for the United States, but it also impacts the entire region. One pending piece of business on the top of my mind, of course, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

“Although Hong Kong is not a member of the TPP, it stands to benefit greatly from improvements to the ‘rules of the road’ in the western Pacific for trade and investment and behind-the-border economic regulation, including improved labor practices, environmental regulations, and intellectual property rights protection, as well as a wide range of other rules that require and encourage transparency and accountability.”

“I believe we are all working towards a shared goal of building upon the current success of the US-Hong Kong relationship and that of the great city of Hong Kong,” Tong reiterates. “When faced with any issue on which there is a difference of opinion, solutions are best found when we give the other party the benefit of the doubt regarding their intentions. Cooperation, communication, and listening to one another are keys to success.”