Remarks by U.S. Consul General Kurt W. Tong
U.S. Independence Day Reception
Island Shangri-La Hotel, Hong Kong
July 5, 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Good evening, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to our celebration of the 242nd birthday of the United States of America.
I want to start this evening by saying a very special thank you to our very special Guest of Honor tonight, The Honorable Mrs. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
We are so grateful to have your support and presence tonight. And on behalf of the entire American community in Hong Kong, let me express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your excellent leadership of this excellent city. Chief Executive, we wish you every success, and we pledge America’s continued strong support for Hong Kong in the years to come.
I am also pleased and honored to welcome tonight an important member of our own legislature, Congressman Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who came to Hong Kong leading a bipartisan delegation from our Congress. His presence here tonight clearly signals America’s recognition of the continuing relevance and importance of Hong Kong.
And of course, I want to thank our many private sector sponsors, whose generous support has made this event possible. You can see their names and logos on our Wall of Sponsors – every one of them representing an important company that values the relationship between the United States and Hong Kong.
Americans have always been drawn to Hong Kong. In fact, 2018 marks the 175th anniversary of the U.S. diplomatic presence in Hong Kong. In 1843, a certain gentleman from Dover, New Hampshire named Thomas Waldron was assigned to be the first Consul General here. His mission lin Hong Kong was promoting trade, with China and with the region.
Then, as now, Americans often arrive in Hong Kong for trade and business. But we stay because we fall in love with the city and the people.
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. Its streets are clean and safe and lively – all at the same time.
Hong Kong’s economy and governance also stand out in Asia. This city points the way for others by showing how open markets and good governance can reinforce one another, thereby creating prosperity. Hong Kong stands out for its respect for the rule of law, for its independent judiciary, and for its sense of fair play – attributes made possible by Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy codified in the Basic Law.
These are indeed the attributes that continue to attract new American businesses to Hong Kong, year after year. We now count more than 1,400 U.S. businesses operating here, significantly more than there were in 1997. And American firms, more than any others, continue to favor Hong Kong for their regional headquarters.
There are so many characteristics that Hongkongers and Americans share – hard work, love of family, and kind-hearted civic-mindedness.
It is especially worth noting that we share a profound love of personal freedom, including freedom of expression. This is why American scholars and journalists, as well as information businesses, love Hong Kong so much, since it is a place where they can explore their ideas in relative liberty.
Hong Kong’s core values – openness, fair play, freedom, respect for diversity and internationalism – are the key reasons why Americans love Hong Kong so much. But we believe those values are also the reason why Hong Kong is such a success story, historically and looking toward the future.
Today, 175 years after Mr. Waldron arrived, you have yet another New Hampshire guy standing here before you representing the United States.
Poor Mr. Waldron was almost alone as an American in Hong Kong, and he had to sail for months to get here. Now, almost 100,000 U.S. citizens call Hong Kong home. And more than twenty direct flights take off to the U.S.A. every day – bringing traders and tourists and students and families back and forth, every day, around the clock.
Back in the day, Mr. Waldron kept an eye out for frigates sailing to America, so that he could pay for his wages by charging the ship captains for stamps authenticating their cargos of tea and silk.
These days, we work on other things, like laying new trans-Pacific fiber optic cables to keep our Internet links fast. And instead of spending our time worrying about where to find good mosquito nets, my team and I work hard to build new ties between Hong Kong and America in areas like information technology, and medical science, or “smart cities” development, or higher education. Our relationship now includes deep cooperation in areas such as cultural and educational exchange, or close teamwork on law enforcement matters.
175 years seems like a long time, don’t you think?
Indeed, the United States is proud to have the oldest diplomatic mission in Hong Kong. And here’s a little-known fact – this consular outpost has been open for more years than any other U.S. official mission in Asia.
But let me arrive, finally, at the main point: It’s not about the past 175 years. It’s about the next 175 years.
I have no idea whether the New Hampshire person representing America here in Hong Kong 175 years from now will be using a flying car to get to work, or have robotic implants, or will be endowed with some other science fiction stuff that I can’t even imagine.
But I am certain that she or he will definitely be here, and will still be working to bring the people of Hong Kong and America ever closer together.
For, as you all know, America is most decidedly a Pacific nation – culturally, economically and politically. And we will remain a positive and important partner for everyone all around the Pacific for centuries to come.
So with that, I would like to ask Chief Executive Lam to join me as I propose a toast: to the people of Hong Kong — long may they thrive and prosper!