Remarks by U.S. Consul General Kurt W. Tong
at a Celebration of the 241st Anniversary of U.S. Independence
and the 20th Anniversary of U.S.-Hong Kong Relations
under the “One Country, Two Systems” Framework
Kerry Hotel, Hong Kong, July 5, 2017
Good evening, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to our celebration of the 241st birthday of the United States of America, here at the beautiful new Kerry Hotel, overlooking iconic Victoria Harbor.
And thank you, Joy Carbonell, for that stunning rendition of our national anthem.
I want to start this evening by saying thank you to our Guest of Honor tonight, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung. We are very grateful to have your support tonight and we thank you for your leadership.
And, of course, on behalf of the United States Government, please allow me to offer sincere congratulations to your new boss, Carrie Lam, upon her inauguration as Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive. We wish Mrs. Lam every success as she embarks on Hong Kong’s most difficult and important job.
Since this city marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region just a few days ago, I think tonight is the right time to highlight the deep and successful friendship that has been forged between the peoples, and the governments, of the United States and Hong Kong.
I myself have only been living in Hong Kong for about one year.
There are two questions that I get asked a lot here. The first question is: Why is your last name “Tong?” Well, the short answer is that my father was also named “Tong.” The long answer is more complicated, and has to do with tragic spelling errors made many years ago in medieval England.
The second question I get most often is: Do you like Hong Kong? Well, the short answer is “yes.” Of course! Doesn’t everyone? But then there is always the follow-up question: “Why do you like Hong Kong?”
So that requires a longer answer. Hong Kong is lovely to look at. It has great natural beauty, great culture, and great food. Its people are kind-hearted and hard-working. Hong Kong is safe and prosperous and — generally speaking — well-run.
But the most important part of the answer to that question has to do with the Hong Kong people. I have found the people that I have met here in Hong Kong to be among the most open and sincere that I have met anywhere. And I have found that openness and sincerity to be true of all generations, and all walks of life — and all political stances, as well.
Last September, I announced that I wanted to meet with every member of the Legislative Council. Well, I have reached out to all of them, and I have met with most of them. Just like other people in Hong Kong, I found these leaders to be very thoughtful, and focused on making this city a great place to live for many more years to come.
So, yes, I like Hong Kong.
But that is just one man’s opinion. The more important fact is this: The United States of America likes Hong Kong.
Let me refer you to the logo you see on the wall. America “heart” Hong Kong. I think you know what it means. Americans like Hong Kong — even love it — and we profoundly admire your city, its people and its attributes.
We chose that logo for this year’s celebration, and we made this year’s event an especially big party this year, because this year, the 20th anniversary of the Special Administrative Region, we wanted to be especially clear.
And the message is this: Twenty years on, friendship between the United States and Hong Kong remains strong. And we look forward to many more years of partnership and cooperation going forward.
In fact, although I represent the United States government, I know that this feeling is true for Americans outside government as well.
Certainly it is clear that American business loves Hong Kong, which is why there are now more than 1,400 U.S. businesses operating here, significantly more than there were in 1997.
And American scholars and journalists and our media love Hong Kong as well, as a place where they can explore and express their ideas in relative freedom.
Looking back, the United States and Hong Kong have in fact been strong partners going as far back as 1843, when a certain gentleman from New Hampshire named Thomas Waldron was assigned to be the first Consul General to Hong Kong.
At that time, the primary interest for the United States in Hong Kong was trade.
Hong Kong certainly remains a key destination for U.S. products and services. But our relationship has now blossomed to include far-reaching cooperation on many other fronts as well, including, for example, an abundance of cultural and educational exchanges, and close law enforcement cooperation.
With tens of thousands of U.S. citizens calling Hong Kong home, and over 100,000 Hongkongers traveling to the United States each year, the consular services we provide at our Consulate are also among the most important things we do every day.
Looking forward, my team and I have identified technology and research, transportation, “smart cities” development, higher education and tourism as areas where the United States and Hong Kong can work harder together to expand our already successful cooperation.
But let me tell you, Hong Kong and the United States hold something else, something deeper, in common: our values.
The people of the United States and the people of Hong Kong both cherish an open society, the rule of law, economic freedom, and freedom of expression.
In fact, just as Americans see the United States as a great example to others, because of our tradition of inclusion and fairness, Hong Kong also serves as a positive example to the entire Asia-Pacific region about what can be achieved by an open and fair society.
Reflections on Hong Kong
As I have already mentioned, this city just concluded celebrations marking 20 years since the establishment of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of China.
Naturally, there has been a lot of reflection on Hong Kong’s past, present, and future.
Much has been said about Hong Kong’s successes and challenges under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.
Last month, I gave a speech in Washington discussing some of the risks that Hong Kong faces, along with the profound opportunities that we see for the future.
My government also issued a document reviewing recent developments in Hong Kong, which noted concern about certain steps by the Chinese Central Government that were inconsistent with China’s important commitment to allowing Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy.
And last week, when the State Department released a statement marking the 20th anniversary, in which it called on all parties concerned to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the crucial ideal of “One Country, Two Systems,” as codified in the Basic Law.
Still, although we should not ignore the challenges facing Hong Kong, I think that we should all continue to be very confident in Hong Kong’s future.
By taking advantage of its open society, its transparent governance, and its freedom of expression — not to mention its well-respected legal system and rule of law — it is clear to us Americans that Hong Kong will continue to succeed.
Hong Kong will surely succeed, and it will do so by leveraging the very resource that has made possible all its successes over previous years — you, its people.
For a great people, in a great city, allowed to chart their own path, I believe the future is boundless.
Celebrating America’s Birthday
As for America, it was 241 years ago yesterday, on July 4, 1776, that thirteen American colonies represented in the Continental Congress adopted a Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.
Those of you who have been in the United States on a July 4 know that we Americans like to celebrate our national birthday with fireworks, parades, and great American foods shared with family and friends at picnics and barbeques.
Tonight, we aim to bring a little piece of that America to this Hong Kong ballroom.
So, please enjoy the four delicious regional American cuisines featured here tonight, in the four corners of the ballroom.
The excellent Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra, led by Taka Hirohama, will be playing favorite American tunes all night long, and I hope to see people dancing before long.
And the movie screens around the room will be showing you scenes from our beautiful country. After that gets you excited about exploring America, please be sure to pick up a copy of our tourism guides on the way out, suggesting awesome new places to visit in all fifty states.
Tonight is also a chance to gather with friends old and new. Every summer we experience quite a bit of turnover at the Consulate. So I hope you will all have a chance to say goodbye to our colleagues who are leaving, and meet some of the new faces at the Consulate who are here tonight as well.
And speaking of familiar faces, we are also honored to have here tonight Ambassador Richard Boucher, who was Consul General to Hong Kong back in 1997 when the Special Administrative Region was launched. I am also delighted that my friend and mentor and predecessor Clifford Hart is here with us this evening as well.
Finally, I must express my heartfelt appreciation to all those who made tonight’s event possible.
You can see on the signboards in the room all the names of the wonderful sponsors who contributed to this evening’s event. I suggest you take a selfie in front of them! We are deeply and truly grateful for all their support.
And I also want to say thanks to Kate Harbin and all the wonderful people at our Consulate who worked so hard to make this event possible.
But most of all, I want to thank you, the people of Hong Kong, for coming to our event, and for being the wonderful, creative, open-minded and energetic people that you are.
You have a friend in the United States of America.
So with that, I would like to ask Chief Secretary Cheung to join me as I propose a toast: to the people of Hong Kong — long may they thrive and prosper!