(Original script, may differ from delivered version)
Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong SAR Government, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this year’s Queen’s Birthday Party – indeed Her Majesty’s 88th – here in Hong Kong.
I would like to thank our many kind sponsors whose names are displayed around the Consulate and in the programme cards. Also singer Katie Targett-Adams and guzheng player Lunlun Zou for their excellent rendition of the national anthems of the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China. And our perfect piper from the Hong Kong Police Band.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I invite you to raise your glasses in the first toast of the evening to Her Majesty [“The Queen”].
Since we gathered in May 2013 to celebrate Her Majesty’s Birthday the UK-Hong Kong relationship has been racing ahead on all tracks. It is particularly appropriate that our Guest of Honour is the Financial Secretary. The Financial Secretary visited London in November. Nothing illustrates better cooperation between the UK and Hong Kong than our financial and economic links, with joint work on the Renminbi, asset management, the regulatory, G8/G20 tax, trade and transparency agenda and much more besides.
We have enjoyed a stream of official British visitors in this field with no fewer than 4 Ministers from HM Treasury visiting Hong Kong including the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As well as visits from the Bank of England, Financial Conduct Authority, and two Lord Mayors from the City of London.
I am most grateful to the Financial Secretary personally for so graciously meeting and hosting this throng – the flow of which shows no sign of abating! As over the coming weeks we expect Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, FCO Minister Mark Simmonds as well as the Ministers for Transport and Climate Change.
But this year hasn’t just been about banks and bonds. It’s also been about buses – and Boris. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson enjoyed his multi-modal transport in Hong Kong – from helicopter to Star Ferry, and what he observed from a red London double decker bus (designed by the wonderful Thomas Heatherwick who by the way is in Hong Kong this evening). He was impressed at the “can do” attitude of this dynamic, very special Administrative Region – an attitude which he characterised in his excellent Cantonese as “no problem”.
Hugo Swire the Foreign Office Minister of State, the Secretary of State for Transport, the First Minister of Scotland, several parliamentarians and the UK Special Representative for Climate Change have also enjoyed substantive visits.
We have also welcomed distinguished Hong Kong visitors to the UK, including Jasper Tsang, Rimsky Yuen, and Eddie Ng as well as various LegCo members. We look forward to welcoming more Hong Kong visitors including of course, the Chief Executive on his first official visit to the UK in October. All this to underline that the UK values our close working relationship with Hong Kong and we will work vigorously to build on this.
It’s not just Ministers who are mobile but also youth: I am pleased that the launch of the reciprocal Youth Mobility Scheme will provide young people from Hong Kong and the UK the opportunity to broaden their horizons.
We are not just seeing a flow of visitors between HK and the UK but also one of goods, services, capital and ideas. Both our economies are enjoying very respectable rates of growth. As for the UK, the Chancellor confirmed in his March Budget that the recovery is gathering pace. Growth forecasts for 2013 were revised upwards to 2.7 per cent, and we expect the UK Budget to be in surplus by 2018-19. Hong Kong is the UK’s second largest market for goods in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2013 UK exports of goods to Hong Kong topped five and a quarter billion pounds, up over 4%.
At this point I should note that these greatly increased flows can also bring risks. So it is with great gratitude that I thank the Hong Kong Police, Customs, Inland Revenue and ICAC for providing assistance and continued co-operation to the HMRC Fiscal Crime Liaison Office. Together you have achieved truly remarkable results in terms of seizures of illegal goods.
UK companies continue to have a major involvement in the Hong Kong Government’s infrastructure plans whether the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macao Bridge and in the ever developing MTR rail network. Other flourishing sectors are education, health, retail and food & drink.
Please don’t miss the British sausages, pork pies and cheese, washed down with some Summer Cup and gin, whisky, beer or one of the fantastic wines here this evening. Yes wine from Britain: try them, they are excellent. Admittedly from southern England – no highland claret or Hebridean fizz. Yet.
The automotive sector also continues to be a key manufacturing sector for the UK with this year on track for decade high output. I hope you noticed the splendid Range Rover on display outside the Consulate. And a study has just declared the UK the cheapest place to manufacture in Western Europe.
2013 was another strong year for investment, building on the UK’s status as the No. 1 destination to invest in Europe and set up European Headquarters. The Budget ensured that the UK remains a great place to do business, by making further progress towards reducing Corporation Tax to 20% in 2015, the lowest in the G20 and joint lowest in the G7. There were other business and investor friendly measures: support for business investment, reductions in energy costs for business and renewed commitments to prioritise infrastructure investment worth more than £330bn by 2020.
As The Chancellor George Osborne said during his trip here in February, “This relationship brings jobs and prosperity for both our economies”. 2013 was a busy year for the world’s two leading global RMB hubs – you can guess which they are – with increased quotas and mutual recognition of funds with China [Hong Kong]; a RMB swap line, RQFII quota, agreement on a clearing bank and an increased share of the global market from 9 to 14 per cent [for London]. Much of this success is linked to the London-Hong Kong RMB Forum. To quote the Chancellor again, “London’s position as the Western centre of RMB trading has been greatly strengthened as a result of this collaboration”.
On a different pitch, moving from Chinese Renminbi to British rugby – in addition to being a GREAT place to do business, the UK continues to be GREAT in many other ways. In the past year the campaign has celebrated British sporting prowess through the visits of the British and Irish Lions rugby team, and several English Premier League football teams. Although we didn’t brand the HK Sevens, I’m sure you will agree that it was also GREAT for Britain with England, Wales, and Scotland all in the various finals for the first time in living memory.
The GREAT campaign has also breezed through Victoria Harbour in the form of GREAT branded yachts in the Nations’ Cup. And we didn’t miss out on the Royal birth, with a GREAT George – actually a GREAT babies event here in the Consulate to support British companies in the mother and baby consumer goods sector.
We will be continuing our work on GREAT with the GREAT Festival towards the end of this year. The UK is a world leader in creativity and this will showcase the very best of it – from fashion and luxury to cutting edge technology to innovation in business.
I’d like to mention the British Council – which you will know through its English teaching, the arts and education. Hong Kong and the UK share an interest in internationalising their campuses on the way to achieving world class university status. So, it was exciting to see their efforts leading to collaboration between the HK University Grants Council and the Scottish Funding Council. The British Council has also brought HK and UK leaders in higher education, government and the private sector together to examine leadership in higher education. We want more collaborative ventures of this nature.
Lastly we are one year closer to 2017 – a date which is tremendously important for Hong Kong and for all those of us who care about Hong Kong and have an interest in Hong Kong. The year ahead will no doubt see plenty of activity on the issue of universal suffrage. Hong Kong’s success is underpinned by its high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms – which are guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 – and which this year will reach the tender – or maybe mature – age of 30. We do believe the best way to preserve these characteristics and Hong Kong’s strengths is through a transition to universal suffrage which meets the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong.
There is no perfect model. The key is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice and feel they have a real stake in the outcome. And a popular mandate for the Chief Executive would surely bolster Hong Kong’s future, provide renewed confidence in HK as a world class city within China, as a destination for all – tourists or investors – and as a great place to live. We therefore look forward to seeing continued dialogue and progress in the coming year.
Having so much to tell you today can only mean one thing: that the team at the British Consulate-General are highly talented and hard working. I would like to pay a tribute to them, staff of all nationalities, from Hong Kong, the UK and other countries ranging from Australia to India, Romania and Thailand, for keeping a magnificent show on the road. Including those providing consular, corporate and other services.
A tribute also to our colleagues at the British Council. And a deep appreciation for the support of our partners in the excellent British Chamber and other British organisations in Hong Kong. This is a real team effort.
And thanks must of course also go to our Hong Kong partners and friends here. We are grateful to you all for your support and look forward to more joint work.
I ask you to join me in a toast, ‘to the people of the People’s Republic of China and of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’. May I now invite the Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government to address you.