Arts & Culture 
 Business 
 Environment 
 Government 
 Health 
 Human Rights 
 Military 
 Philosophy 
 Science 
 U.S. Asian Policy 


Home > East Asia > 

Randall Schriver on democracy in Hong Kong
Randall G. Schriver
4/9/2004

Political Rights Essential to Hong Kong's Success, Schriver Says State official's March 4 Foreign Relations Committee testimony

Modern political rights and freedoms are essential to the success of Hong Kong, and the United States has a profound interest in and commitment to Hong Kong's success, according to Randall Schriver, deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Schriver testified at a March 4 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on prospects for democratic development in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has continued to enjoy many liberties and rights that "contribute to the preservation of fundamental human freedoms" since the 1997 reversion to Chinese sovereignty, Schriver told the committee.

"...[I]n most respects the people of Hong Kong remain in charge of the important aspects of their destiny," the State Department official noted. In the area of economic freedoms in particular, Schriver said, Hong Kong consistently ranks as one of the freest cities in Asia.

This economic openness and commitment to rule of law have been welcomed by the United States, Schriver said. Hong Kong is America's 14th largest trading partner, and hosts over 1000 American firms. The United States has cumulative direct foreign investment in Hong Kong of over $35 billion.

But some political freedoms continue to lag, Schriver reported.

"Events of the past year have amply demonstrated the desire of the people of Hong Kong to advance the democratization process," he said, pointing to large but peaceful demonstrations in July 2003 and January 2004. "The Hong Kong people have shown their desire for movement on this issue and the protection of civil liberties."

Schriver commended the Hong Kong government for its reaction to the demonstrations and for its handling of recent district council elections. He also praised comments by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that acknowledged the ability of the people of Hong Kong to govern themselves. Schriver encouraged the Chinese government to recognize its "vital stake in Hong Kong's evolution."

"It is important that China understand our strong interest in the preservation of Hong Kong's current freedoms, as well as our interest in the continued democratization of Hong Kong," Schriver concluded. "U.S.-China relations will suffer if the cause of freedom and democracy suffers in Hong Kong. None of us -- in Hong Kong, in Beijing, in Washington, or elsewhere -- would benefit from such an outcome."

Following is the text of Schriver's testimony, as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)

Democracy in Hong Kong

Testimony Before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Randall G. Schriver
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
East Asian and Pacific Affairs

March 4, 2004

Mr. Chairman, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Committee today about a subject that engages Americans and America's interests directly: the future of Hong Kong, including the prospects for democratic development in Hong Kong.

The underlying goal associated with U.S. policy toward Hong Kong before and after the 1997 reversion has been consistent: it is based on our desire to help the people of Hong Kong preserve their prosperity and way of life. This also promotes important U.S. interests.

Hong Kong is a work in progress and the people of Hong Kong face the challenge of redefining their economic and political structure. The 1984 Joint Declaration of the UK and the PRC, the subsequent promulgation of the Basic Law, and Hong Kong's sustained, autonomous management of its day-to-day affairs laid a foundation for Hong Kong's continued economic success, as well as its political development. The United States embraces and supports Hong Kong's uniqueness through passage and implementation of the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which established the legal authority to treat Hong Kong as an entity distinct from the People's Republic of China.

As a consequence of these agreements and legislation, Hong Kong in the years since reversion has continued to enjoy economic freedoms, civil liberties, freedom of press and assembly, and strong rule of law. Though some political freedoms continue to lag -- a trend I will address in detail later on -- the liberties and rights Hong Kong has enjoyed contribute to the preservation of fundamental human freedoms. I might also add that they are necessary, though not sufficient in and of themselves, to sustaining a vibrant democracy.

America has a profound interest in and commitment to the success of Hong Kong. Some 50,000 Americans live and work there. Hong Kong hosts more than 1,000 American firms there, 600 of which have regional operational responsibilities and employ a quarter of a million people. Cumulative American foreign direct investment in Hong Kong, a region with nearly seven million residents, totaled over $35 billion at the end of 2002. We also have considerable trade interests in Hong Kong. Total exports of goods and services amounted to $16.8 billion in 2002, while imports of the same reached approximately $13.3 billion, making Hong Kong our 14th largest trading partner.

With global trade in goods at $408 billion, Hong Kong has a vital interest in liberalizing trade internationally. During recent trade discussions at Cancun, we counted Hong Kong among the most vocal and effective supporters of open market principles, and, more generally, Hong Kong has been at the forefront of efforts in the Doha Round to reduce barriers to trade.

Beyond the trade and investment statistics, there exists an evolving but vital bilateral cooperation with Hong Kong authorities that greatly enhances America's security. Hong Kong, the single largest source of U.S.-bound sea containers, joined the Container Security Initiative in September 2002 and made its program operational eight months later in May 2003. In joining the CSI, the Hong Kong Government underscored our common interest in protecting the smooth functioning of the global trading system in the face of terrorist threats. In addition to CSI, Hong Kong, the second largest financial market in Asia, has worked closely with us and through the premier global institution for attacking money laundering, the Financial Action Task Force, which Hong Kong chaired in 2003, to find ways to cut off terrorist access to financial sources. Law enforcement cooperation, across-the-board, has been excellent and targeted at protecting the safety and well-being of the people of Hong Kong and America alike. And Hong Kong has been a welcoming port-of-call for visits by American ships; the carrier Kitty Hawk and its battle group will visit Hong Kong later this week.

I would also note that Hong Kong has an effective, autonomous, and transparent export control regime that is strengthened through pre-license checks and post-shipment verification of Hong Kong companies by U.S. Department of Commerce representatives. During the mid-February visit to Hong Kong by Commerce Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, Hong Kong government officials agreed to work with us to strengthen our already close cooperation. They well understand the importance of ensuring that the basic infrastructure supporting our export control cooperation is in good shape. Our exports of high technology commodities to Hong Kong depend on the integrity of Hong Kong's separateness and on the effective and vigorous enforcement of Hong Kong's export control rules and regulations.

What this all means is that in most respects the people of Hong Kong remain in charge of the important aspects of their destiny. It is one of Asia's freest cities, and on the Index of Economic Freedom -- a measure that was co-published on January 9 by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal -- Hong Kong ranks at the top of a list of 155 economies surveyed, and has been in the number one spot for ten years. This economic openness matters. It is one of the reasons that many American firms choose Hong Kong as their Asian base. They can count on the rule of law to protect their investments and promote their unfettered operation.

As a result, the people of Hong Kong look forward to a future based on a continuation of today's freedoms and progress toward democratization. The Chinese government in Beijing itself has said that in the future, the people of Hong Kong will govern themselves and will hold their leaders accountable.

Hong Kong's openness, its international status, its welcoming attitude to businesspeople throughout the world, its active participation in economic organizations, including the World Trade Organization -- these are elements of Hong Kong's comparative advantage.

The people of mainland China benefit from Hong Kong's openness as well. Hong Kong has played a key role in helping alter the landscape in China, especially in South China, where ten million workers or more in at least 65,000 Hong Kong-run factories are gainfully employed and learning how to do business with an international focus, and according to free market principles. Hong Kong provides access to capital markets and listings on the Hong Kong stock exchange for PRC companies that are also becoming more international in their orientation everyday. And Hong Kong institutions such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption are a model for the PRC government's own efforts in dealing with corrupt practices.

But neither the Economic Freedom Index nor the economic openness of Hong Kong measures political freedom and it is this subject and the issue of democracy that I want to address in a bit more detail.

Events of the past year have amply demonstrated the desire of the people of Hong Kong to advance the democratization process, as is their right under the Basic Law. The United States has been very clear: our longstanding policy is that Hong Kong should move toward greater democratization and universal suffrage. The Hong Kong people have shown their desire for movement on this issue and the protection of civil liberties. Last July 1, a half million Hong Kongers peacefully protested national security legislation (Article 23), subsequently withdrawn by the government, that had the potential to restrict their civil liberties. The people of Hong Kong spoke, eloquently and peacefully, of their desire for a more effective, more democratic, more responsive government. The New Year's Day 2004 demonstration of 100,000 people in Hong Kong was another reflection of the desire of the Hong Kong people to advance the democratization process.

What is most important at this juncture in Hong Kong's ongoing evolution is for the Hong Kong Government to consult fully with the public on measures to move toward a government that more fully represents the interests of the people. We applauded the Hong Kong government's willingness last year, in the aftermath of the July demonstrations, to consult with the governed before moving forward with the proposed national security legislation. We think it is just as important now to listen to the public with regard to enlarging Hong Kong's democratic experiment, as envisioned in Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law, which make clear the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. In fact, Hong Kong's Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam said on October 20, 2003 that "we need to listen to views in society on what proposals we should consider over the constitutional reform of 2007." I can think of no better argument for effective and continuing public debate than this statement.

As Secretary Powell said in hearings on the budget in January, "We join the people of Hong Kong in urging open and frank discussion to promote constitutional reform and democratization through electoral reform and universal suffrage."

In this context, we commend the Hong Kong Government's conduct of late November elections for the District Council's 400 seats as showcasing democracy at its best -- at the grass roots where people live and work, and their representatives deal with mundane issues of popular concern -- from collecting garbage to the quality of the local school systems. It is at this level that the roots of the institution of democracy are planted, where political leaders emerge and are trained and help build the kind of public consensus and unity that is necessary in the life of any democratic society. Strengthening and encouraging these building blocks of democracy will strengthen and expand the quality of civic and political engagement in Hong Kong.

China has a vital stake in Hong Kong's evolution. In fact, Premier Wen Jiabao recognized just that in remarks he made last October in Bali. If, as the Premier said then, "Hong Kong people can govern Hong Kong well," then it is only natural that the people of Hong Kong should have a voice in the development of Hong Kong's democracy. What they are asking, it seems clear to me, is not for a Hong Kong separate from the mainland; that issue was long settled before reversion in 1997. Hong Kongers are asking for government that is more responsive to the will of the people.

Democracy is predicated on the assumption that there will be disagreements, and disagreements are settled in democracies by the ballot box. Today's disagreements in Hong Kong are over how best to govern, not on whether one person or one group is imbued with more or less patriotic fervor. I have little doubt that the people of Hong Kong, government and citizens alike, are dedicated to maintaining prosperity and stability in the context of the arrangements made for the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Many of them believe Hong Kong's future is best served by reform of the political structure and better communication between government and the governed. An unproductive debate on who is the most patriotic or whether some people in Hong Kong are being influenced by outsiders is the last thing that men and women of goodwill should engage in; what could work best is for all parties, across the political spectrum in Hong Kong, to forge responsible positions that contribute to the resolution of Hong Kong's governing structure.

Our view is that the people of Hong Kong have made that point repeatedly in the past eight months to their government and that it is time for the governments in Hong Kong -- and in China -- to listen to them.

Important decisions and choices must be made by the authorities in Hong Kong. Chinese policymakers in Beijing will also make decisions regarding Hong Kong's future. Chinese sovereignty is a reality that will heavily influence the success of those dedicated to democracy in Hong Kong. Certainly some of the recent statements attributed to authoritative voices in Beijing reflect a profound discomfort with the development of democracy in Hong Kong. Some in China have gone so far as to suggest that the peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong in support of universal suffrage are inspired by shadowy, foreign elements. This notion reflects a fundamental misreading of the role of public debate in an open society, which in fact serves to promote the kind of political, economic, social and civic development that is essential to Hong Kong's stability and prosperity and, we believe, to China's interests as well.

Those voices notwithstanding, there is one thing on which we all can agree -- we want and need Hong Kong and its people to succeed. In our view, the best way to ensure Hong Kong's sustained success is continued movement toward democratization. Modern political rights and freedoms are essential to the success of a cosmopolitan and sophisticated society as found in Hong Kong. These attributes undeniably and irrevocably go together.

While respecting Chinese sovereignty, we make these very points in a candid, straightforward manner to our interlocutors in Hong Kong and Beijing. It is important that China understand our strong interest in the preservation of Hong Kong's current freedoms, as well as our interest in the continued democratization of Hong Kong as called for in the Basic Law. U.S.-China relations will suffer if the cause of freedom and democracy suffers in Hong Kong. None of us -- in Hong Kong, in Beijing, in Washington or elsewhere -- would benefit from such an outcome.

Before I conclude, Mr. Chairman, let me quote from the 2003 Hong Kong Policy Act Report, which reviewed trends as of April 1, 2003 -- well before the most recent ferment in Hong Kong. Despite all the changes of the past eleven months, what has not changed is our interest in Hong Kong in "the protection of human rights and the promotion of democratic institutions. Hong Kong residents share many values and interests with Americans and have worked to make Hong Kong a model of what can be achieved in a society based on rule of law and respect for civil liberties."

It is important to us, and to those who respect and cherish democracy around the world, that Hong Kong remain an open and tolerant society, one with a vibrant and evolving political culture. This Administration will continue to communicate this view to the Hong Kong government, the central government authorities in Beijing, and the people of Hong Kong.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I would be delighted to take your questions.


© Copyright 2002-2007 AFAR