Remarks by U.S. Consul General Kurt W. Tong
at the U.S. Independence Day Reception in Hong Kong
July 2, 2019
(As prepared for delivery)
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to welcome you tonight to celebrate America’s birthday!
I particularly want to thank Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung for joining us today as Guest of Honor. It is indeed an honor to have you here, Mr. Secretary. I have enjoyed working with you over these past three years, and I have been always impressed by your dedication to this city. Thank you so much for your friendship.
We are also honored tonight by the presence of other officials from the Hong Kong Government and from the Central People’s Government. Thank you so much for joining. I also want to introduce you all to Mr. Paul Horowitz, our new Deputy Consul General, who joins us tonight along with his lovely wife Sandy.
I would also like to express sincere appreciation to our many corporate sponsors whose generosity helped make tonight’s event possible. Many of them are sporting sponsor badges on their lapels this evening. I would also ask that all our guests take time to review the names of our supporters listed on our Wall of Honor. My profound thanks to every one of you.
And finally, a big thank you to the staff at the Ocean Park Marriott for making such fine arrangements. I think you will agree the room looks spectacular. Lots of credit also goes to my own hardworking staff, our security team, and also to our friends and protectors in the Hong Kong Police Force for helping to make it all come together.
Now, given the events of yesterday, it is important for me to make one thing clear at the start of this speech.
As the State Department spokesperson said last night in response to scenes of violence and vandalism at the Legislative Council: “The United States urges all sides to refrain from violence. Hong Kong’s success is predicated on the respect for the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms, including its freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.”
And Ladies and gentlemen: I know the food tables are inviting, but before we really get this party rocking, I also want to say just a few words about the meaning of our celebration today.
One joy of being a diplomat is you to get to attend these receptions and hear the pride each nation takes in its history and culture.
I stand before you as a diplomat who is exceptionally proud to represent the United States of America.
There are many reasons for a nation to be proud – its people … its culture … its achievements.
In the United States, we are blessed to have a particularly diverse and talented and friendly collection of global citizens. I encourage you all to visit the United States – often – and travel far and wide. You will find that America is a country that is generous in spirit, and ready to share our bounty with friends.
There is another thing that makes Americans proud: our system of democracy.
As you saw in the video, tonight’s theme is the 230th anniversary of the 1789 entry into force of the core set of promises that creates and sustains America’s cohesion as a nation: the Constitution of the United States of America.
Now, many of you may have noticed the gap between this year being the 243rd anniversary of our Declaration of Independence and the 230th birthday of the Constitution. So what’s up with that?
Well, the fact is that it took a rather long time, first just to decide to even have a Constitution – it was an innovative idea at the time – and then to agree on what it should say. There were massive arguments about States’ rights and taxation, and about how best to set up a proper balance of power between the legislature, the President and the judiciary.
But they did it. And so the rest is history! Right?
Well, not so fast.
Even with a Constitution, our new nation traveled a rocky road.
We struggled to overcome our sins of genocide and slavery, fighting a brutal Civil War in the process. Even after that war we struggled to achieve social justice and harmony. And much of that effort remains incomplete even today.
Throughout it all, however, we were guided by this one remarkable document, our Constitution, which ever so wisely put the power of governance into the hands of the people.
The Constitution does much more than just describe the purposes and duties of the government. It outlines the many rights and freedoms of the people, including the right to choose their own leaders.
The very best thing about the U.S. Constitution, however, in my opinion, is that it can be – and has been – improved. It has been amended 27 times so far! Each change made it better – by expanding rights, and clarifying and limiting some powers, while enhancing others.
It is on that optimistic note that I would like to say farewell to Hong Kong.
Earlier today, I gave a long and detailed speech at the Asia Society about the past, present and future of America’s relationship with Hong Kong.
One main point of the speech was to explain that the United States loves Hong Kong, and to reiterate why. You may have heard me say all that before.
But the other main point was to state why I am optimistic and confident about Hong Kong’s future.
Clearly the past several months have been a tough time for Hong Kong. Mistakes have been made. There has been conflict.
But it is that struggle that makes me optimistic.
Think about the history of America, and our Constitution. Mistakes were made. There was conflict. But the intentions were good. “We the People, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”
Ladies and gentlemen: Ideas matter, and so do values. I believe that Hong Kong has the right ideas, and values, and even the right basic structure in “one country, two systems,” to succeed and prosper as a society.
The other crucial ingredient for success, of course, is commitment. And I see a lot of that, both inside this room and throughout the city. We have that in America, and you have it here.
So, on that note, Mika and I will depart Hong Kong and Macau at the end of this week, to move back to the United States. While we are happy to be moving closer to our children, we are very sad to be leaving all you fine people behind.
Mika and I have cherished our time in Hong Kong and Macau, and we will also continue to cherish the many friendships we have made.
We look forward to returning regularly to this terrific city, but for now I leave you all with a simple salute.
Chief Secretary Cheung, if you would not mind joining me for a toast…
To the People of the United States of America, to the People of Hong Kong, and to our enduring friendship!