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The Tale of a City
Since it returned to the motherland 20 years ago, Hong Kong has continued to develop itself as a modern metropolis
By Zan Jifang | NO. 28 JULY 13, 2017

President Xi Jinping (right) meets with Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor shortly after she was sworn in as the fifth-term chief executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong on July 1 (XINHUA)

It was a historic scene at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on July 1 when Hong Kong, a fishing village-turned metropolis, embarked on a new journey by welcoming its first female chief executive.

Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, holding her right hand up solemnly, dressed in a light pink silk qipao—a traditional Chinese dress—with a white Chinese-style embroidered long coat, was sworn in as the fifth-term Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China by President Xi Jinping.

A big day

Besides Lam, the principal officials of the fifth-term Hong Kong SAR Government also took their oaths of office before Xi. After that, members of the Executive Council were sworn in by Lam.

The grand ceremony started with the sonorous sound of the Chinese national anthem sung by all those present, including members of a central government delegation and representatives from all walks of Hong Kong society. It was also a celebration for the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland.

The venue was the same place where the city was handed over by Britain to China on July 1, 1997, and the Hong Kong SAR Government officially established. The occasion drew people's minds back to the historic moment 20 years ago.

Xi gave a speech at the ceremony, recalling the history of Hong Kong, from falling to British colonial rule in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to returning to China more than 150 years later.

Xi said that in the past two decades, the principle of "one country, two systems" had achieved great success in Hong Kong and it has proven to be the best solution to the historical question of Hong Kong and the best institutional arrangement to ensure Hong Kong's long-term prosperity and stability after its return.

"[The principle] has proven to be a workable solution welcomed by the people," he said.

Xi also pointed out that "one country, two systems" is a pioneering initiative that has no precedent to follow.

With regard to some new developments and new issues regarding how to better implement the principle of "one country, two systems," he put forward four proposals: having a correct understanding of the relationship between "one country" and "two systems;" acting in accordance with the Constitution and the Hong Kong SAR Basic Law; focusing on development as the top priority; and maintaining a harmonious and stable social environment.

"Development, an abiding pursuit, is crucial for Hong Kong's survival, and it holds the golden key to resolving various issues in Hong Kong," he said.

Xi emphasized the importance of unity and called on the nation to have confidence in a better future for both the mainland with its socialist system, and Hong Kong, which follows capitalism.

"I firmly believe that with the strong support from the Central Government and the mainland people, the experience of the SAR Government accumulated in the past two decades, and Hong Kong's solid development basis as well as the concerted dedication of the Hong Kong SAR Government and people, the principle of 'one country, two systems' will enjoy greater success and Hong Kong's tomorrow will be even better," Xi said.

Pledging to lead Hong Kong to more achievements in the next five years, Lam said assuming the post of chief executive of Hong Kong SAR is both the greatest honor and the greatest challenge in her public service career.

"I will, as I always have, rise to challenges and firmly take actions in accordance with the law against any acts that will undermine the country's sovereignty, security and development interests, abiding by 'one country, two systems,' in fulfilment of the mandate from the Central Government and our community," she said.

Lam said running for chief executive had given her a good opportunity to understand the concerns at the grassroots and also foster stronger confidence in Hong Kong's prospects. Hong Kong has strong foundations, and outstanding talents, she said.

China resumes the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997 (CNSPHOTO)

She will focus on strengthening people's trust in the government, Lam said. The government will serve the people in innovative, interactive and collaborative manners. "We will take forward specific measures to provide more opportunities for young people to take part in public policy discussions and implementation. By doing so, we aim not only to enhance their understanding of and trust in the government, but also to nurture future talent and leaders in society and politics."

Lam also said her confidence in the future came from the support of the Central Government and the institutional strengths established by generations of Hong Kong people.

"As we capitalize on our strengths and harness the opportunities presented by our country's development, Hong Kong's future is indeed bright and promising," Lam said.

The celebrations of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland started last year, with more than 200 activities in the SAR, on the mainland, and also abroad.

They climaxed on July 1. Early in the morning, attended by more than 2,000 people, a solemn flag-hoisting ceremony was held at the Golden Bauhinia Square outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. At 8 a.m., the national flag of China and the flag of Hong Kong SAR were fluttering against the wind at the top of the flagpoles.

At the same time, in Victoria Harbor nearby, 100 fishing boats started a parade with the national flag of China and the flag of Hong Kong SAR atop the mast of each boat.

In the evening, a big firework show lit up the sky above the harbor in a grand finale to the festivities of the day.

According to China's tradition, a man enters adulthood at the age of 20. In his speech, Xi called the celebrations on July 1 a coming-of-age rite for Hong Kong SAR. He quoted a line from The Book of Songs, an anthology of ancient Chinese poetry, comparing the growth of Hong Kong to lush bamboos and pine trees with strong vitality.

"Twenty years are a good time to review the past and look into the future," Lam said.

In the past two decades, Hong Kong has continued to develop itself as a modern metropolis, marking an important chapter in the history of the city.

"The changes that took place in Hong Kong in the past 20 years were just what the city should have undergone after returning to the motherland and what its people had been anticipating," said Zhang Xiaoming, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central Government in Hong Kong.

President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan greet the crowd upon their arrival in Hong Kong on June 29 (XINHUA)

A new epoch 

China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. On the same day, the Basic Law of Hong Kong SAR came into effect. According to the Basic Law, under the principle of "one country, two systems," the socialist system and policies will not be practiced in Hong Kong, and the SAR enjoys a high degree of autonomy. It means Hong Kong people have finally become the masters of their own destiny.

For Tung Chee-hwa, first Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR, who was in power from 1997 to 2005, the historic moment when the sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred from Britain to China held much more than excitement. What he felt more was the weight of responsibility on his shoulders.

"It was the most unforgettable moment in my life, a moment I had long been anticipating," Tung said. "Watching the fall of the flag of Britain and the rise of the national flag of China, as a 60-year-old, I was deeply, deeply moved."

From then on, the affairs of Hong Kong have been handled by Hong Kong people themselves, and the rule of law, one of Hong Kong's core values, has been safeguarded, Tung said.

The other values that Hong Kong people treasure most, such as freedom, judicial independence and clean governance, have also been consolidated after the return.

In the report on global competitiveness for 2016-17 published by the World Economic Forum, Hong Kong ranks third globally and first in Asia, in terms of judicial independence.

Hong Kong has also ranked among the top globally in the indexes of governance in the reports issued by the World Bank since 2003. In 2015, World Bank statistics showed Hong Kong's ranking for the rule of law rising to 11th place, from under 60th in 1996.

Yuen Kwok-keung, Secretary for Justice of the fifth-term Hong Kong SAR Government, who held the same position in the previous government as well, said the statistics from international institutions were objective evaluations of the legal environment in Hong Kong.

"After the return [to the motherland], with the Basic Law as the foundation, the common law system, the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong have all been better maintained," Yuen said.

He also said that many foreigners have confidence in Hong Kong's rule-of-law environment. "Many Western people I met on various occasions told me that when they want to invest in Asia, the first place coming into their minds is Hong Kong. One of the reasons is our legal system," he remarked.

The Basic Law, Yuen added, enables Hong Kong SAR to invite famous judges from other countries to work at the Court of Final Appeal. In the past 20 years, more than 20 judges from different countries came to work in Hong Kong.

"They are all prestigious judges in their own countries," Yuen said. "If they didn't think the rule-of-law environment in Hong Kong was good, judicial independence in Hong Kong was good, and the legal system was good, they would not have come."

Before Hong Kong's return to China, the governor of Hong Kong was appointed by the Queen of Britain and major government officials were dispatched by the British Government. But now the chief executive is elected and all the officials of the SAR Government are Hong Kong people, said Lee Wai-king, a member of the Hong Kong SAR Legislative Council (LegCo) and Chairperson of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the largest political party that has the most seats in the LegCo.

"This is the most important change after the return," said Lee.

"After the return, on the economic or social development front, the voices of all social groups can be heard, both the pros and cons," said Leung Kwan-yuen, President of the LegCo.

Leung said the degree of democracy in the election of the LegCo's members has been increasing. Especially when Hong Kong encountered difficulties or crises, the LegCo facilitated the passing of many bills initiated by the SAR Government, helping many infrastructure and social development programs go smoothly.

Hong Kong has been more active in the international arena as well, said Zhang. Currently, Hong Kong participates in 41 inter-governmental international organizations and 37 non-governmental international organizations. A total of 157 countries or regions offer Hong Kong passport holders visa-free entry or visa on arrival.

Fishing boats hold a parade in the Victoria Harbor on July 1 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland (XINHUA)

A society of diversity 

Because of its excellent legal environment and social stability, Hong Kong is seen as one of the safest cities in the world. It is also home to a unique community of people who celebrate excellence and quality living.

More and more foreigners want to settle down in Hong Kong. For example, in the past 10 years, the number of French people who took up residence in Hong Kong doubled. With the total French population in Hong Kong exceeding 25,000, Hong Kong today has the largest French community in Asia, Zhang said.

"French people pursue a romantic life. The fact that many of them prefer to live in Hong Kong shows the appeal of the city," Zhang said.

Hong Kong is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia where visitors have a variety of choices. They can go shopping in bustling downtown areas, spend a leisurely afternoon in the Central District old town, immerse themselves in culture and history at the well preserved historical sites, or simply stroll in the picturesque suburban parks.

In 2016, Hong Kong was included in the Top 10 tourist destinations in Asia named by the U.S.-based TripAdvisor, one of the leading travel websites in the world. In 1997, tourists to Hong Kong numbered 11.27 million, while in 2016, it rose to 56 million.

Hong Kong was also named the best city for business affairs globally by Business Traveler magazine in 2015, and the best venue for business events in a survey by CEI Asia, a conference, event and incentive travel industry news magazine, in the same year.

The integration of different cultures and interconnection between different peoples have made Hong Kong a pluralistic and tolerant society. The city has 1.27 million volunteers, extending care to the underrepresented and the minority communities.

Working as a rights and welfare officer at the Kowloon West Service Center of New Home Association (NHA), an NGO helping new arrivals from the mainland and the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, Leung Ping-kin, a registered social worker, has been doing volunteer work for six years.

According to Leung, most of the staff at the NHA are volunteers. Their services include organizing consultations and employment training for adults and various classes for children.

"Every year, Hong Kong receives around 50,000 new arrivals. There are some 27,000 new arrivals in the area served by our center. We help them to adapt faster," he said.

The NHA has set up volunteer groups in different districts to organize new arrivals and help them realize their potential to serve the community.

Zhong Tian, who comes from Guangdong Province, is a newcomer in Hong Kong's volunteer army. When she studied in City University of Hong Kong years ago, she took part in many activities hosted by the NHA. After graduation in 2012, she decided to work in Hong Kong and became a volunteer in the NHA.

"Hong Kong is a city of immigrants. In the 1940s, the population was only 600,000, but now it is more than 7 million," said Hui Wing-mau, Chairman of the NHA Board of Presidents. "The city has accepted generations of new immigrants. It is very difficult for newcomers to integrate. However, if they are helped at an early stage, even before their arrival, it will be easier for them. This is why we established this association."

According to Hui, the NHA, founded in 2010, now has 130,000 members. Around 2,000 volunteers work at the association.

Zhong Ziqi, a new arrival from Guangdong who got a Hong Kong permanent identity card in 2015, is an NHA member and has benefited a lot from its services.

"Before I got the permanent resident status, I could not participate in many activities. But in the NHA, there is no such restriction. I joined the association in 2012 as a volunteer," Zhong said.

Her daughter has been learning dancing at the association for years. "She dances very well," Zhong said proudly.

While her children attend classes, Zhong also takes courses there in parenting, learning how to better communicate with children.

"As new arrivals, we may encounter difficulties in the process of integrating into society. The city is new to us and we need to know many things. The association is like our home, making us feel comfortable in the early days," she said.

A hub of creativity 

Diverse cultural and social backgrounds with a unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures make Hong Kong an ideal land to cultivate entrepreneurship and creativity. The SAR Government set up Create Hong Kong (CreateHK), an agency under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, in June 2009 to spearhead the development of the creative industry in Hong Kong.

"The creative industry is an important element for an international metropolis. We hope to forge Hong Kong into a creative hub," said Wellington Fung, assistant head of CreateHK. "Hong Kong is an open city and its East-meets-West characteristic provides a good platform for different talents to communicate and cooperate."

More than 210,000 people in Hong Kong are now engaged in the creative industry, covering design, fashion, film, television, music, publishing and printing, digital entertainment, advertising, architecture and the performing arts.

The Hong Kong SAR Government has supportive policies to build up Hong Kong into a hub of creative startups, attracting global talents to realize their dreams in Hong Kong.

The PMQ is one of the creative centers in Hong Kong. Located on the historical Hollywood Road in the middle of Hong Kong's famous SoHo lifestyle district, the former Police Married Quarters has been revitalized and transformed into a landmark for the creative industry. Here, visitors can do much more than experiencing the best of Hong Kong's creative community. They can buy original items, meet their designers, and learn the story behind each inspired product.

A non-profit project to nurture Hong Kong designers, the PMQ is now home to more than 100 young create-preneurs. Belinda Chang is one of the young designers stationed there. She and her partner opened a contemporary jewelry studio to produce hand-made items, hoping to develop their own brand. The studio now works with six to seven designers and also trains people interested in jewelry designing.

"Each of the designers in our studio has their own design and collections. We hope our products have a variety of designs and meet the different needs of consumers. But the most important thing is that our designing concept is similar, and that's why we can work together," said Chang, who graduated from the University of Birmingham in Britain seven years ago.

"The SAR Government subsidizes young artists' rents to help them start their businesses," said Wendy Chu, Associate Director of Corporate Communications and Tourism Marketing at PMQ Management Co. Ltd.

"In the past two years, the PMQ Management gave publicity to our studio and organized our participation in some international exhibitions and fairs, helping the world know more about the work of Hong Kong designers," Chang said.

"Rents and labor in Hong Kong are expensive and natural resources are limited, so what we can depend on is our people, or their creativity," said Fung.

Since the 1970s, Fung has been working in the Hong Kong film industry. "All of our films came from numerous ideas and so opening people's mind is crucial," he said. In his opinion, a feature of Hong Kong's culture is its boundless thinking and not being afraid of making mistakes.

He also holds that two major characters of Hong Kong people are their capability to adapt to the environment and their endurance. "Even a granny at home is trying to learn English to better communicate with others," he said.

Just as Fung said, with a strong adaption capability and endurance, no difficulties are insurmountable. It is true for the creative industry, and is also true for entire society. Endowed with such spirit, Hong Kong has reasons to be confident of more achievements in the future, and the legend of the Pearl of the Orient will go on.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar 

Comments to zanjifang@bjreview.com 

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