Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Chief Secretary Lam, ladies and gentlemen, good evening! It is my great pleasure to be with you tonight as the United States marks its 240th birthday. Thank you so much for joining us as we honor America’s history. I would like to express my special appreciation for our generous donors whose contributions made this evening possible, as well as the Shangri-La and the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet Band.
I am thrilled to share the stage this evening with the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs. Carrie Lam, a public servant whose efforts over decades have made life better for all Hong Kongers and for us lucky foreigners who get to live here for a while. Over a long career that has taken me around the planet, I find the Chief Secretary unsurpassed in her integrity, wisdom, and unstinting commitment to the public good. May I ask all guests to join me in a round of applause for this remarkable public servant?
As many of you know, this will be my last time celebrating our national day with you as U.S. Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau. It has been my privilege to serve here for the past three years, and I feel fortunate to have represented in my country in a place that is genuinely so close to my heart. I first visited Hong Kong in February 1984 on the way to my first overseas assignment, in Guangzhou, and I have a delightful sense of seeing my career come full circle. I am grateful for the opportunities the last three years have offered to work with many of you here to advance America’s partnership with Hong Kong.
Together, we’ve achieved successes in trade, investment, law enforcement, environmental protection, and many other important sectors. I know you will receive my successor, Ambassador Kurt Tong, with equal kindness and enthusiasm when he arrives next month. Our new Deputy Consul General, Thomas Hodges, who is here tonight, also brings a wealth of experience.
The United States now, as ever, is committed to a strong relationship with Hong Kong under “One Country, Two Systems” and to supporting Hong Kong’s liberal traditions and high degree of autonomy. We believe that Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity depend on the fundamental freedoms — of expression, of peaceful assembly, of the press — and other core values enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
Of course, with freedom of expression comes discussion, and with discussion, disagreement often follows. This is a healthy part of good governance. As I observed in my Independence Day remarks here last year, public debate is the indispensable means by which open societies make progress on their greatest challenges. I am confident, for instance, that Hong Kong’s long debate before the June 2015 LegCo vote on universal suffrage, far from being wasted time, will prove useful when the SAR again considers the matter.
The United States supports universal suffrage for Hong Kong, and we share the hope that the people of the SAR and their elected representatives will have another chance to consider constitutional reform before too much time passes. In the meanwhile, as they engage in debate, I urge Hong Kongers to appreciate the interests that are at stake in the SAR. Seven and a half million people live in a remarkably cosmopolitan region of China and enjoy the full range of freedoms and values that mark this place as genuinely First World.
Many of us around the planet are emotionally invested in the SAR’s welfare, the global economy benefits hugely from its success, and Hong Kong models the hopes of many Chinese people for a liberal, affluent, and humane society. All participants in the policy debate in Hong Kong share a burden for preserving this remarkable place. Nobody should take Hong Kong as we know it for granted.
I urge all Hong Kongers to work together to protect the special freedoms they enjoy by engaging in debate that is results-oriented, civil, and peaceful and by exhibiting that deep wisdom, restraint, and forbearance for which Chinese culture has long justly been famous.
In that spirit, may I ask you please to join me in a toast: To the people of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and of the entirety of the People’s Republic of China.