Still weathering an unprecedented wave of protests, Hong Kong’s top U.S.-based officials stressed the city’s enduring legal system and democratic ideals during a Chinese New Year celebration in Atlanta Thursday.
“Despite the strain, our institutional strengths, most notably the rule of law, are upheld. Our judiciary continues to administer justice without fear or favor,” Eddie Mak, Hong Kong’s commissioner in Washington, said in a speech at the Georgia Aquarium. He cited former Canadian Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s assessment last month that the courts were “immune to outside pressure.”
Hong Kong has faced more than seven months of sometimes violent demonstrations against what some see as eroding freedoms and a tightening of the mainland Chinese grip over the city.
To reassure investors, embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam this week led a delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, challenging the narrative that Hong Kong’s autonomy is slipping.
Addressing more than a hundred at a reception in Atlanta, Mr. Mak said business has been continuing at a rapid clip, despite the unrest.
“We continue to top the world in funds raised through initial public offerings, taking in about US$40 billion. That marked the seventh time in the past 11 years in which Hong Kong led the world in IPOs,” Mr. Mak said.
He added that the U.S. enjoyed a trade surplus with Hong Kong in 2018, when it bought nearly $38 billion in American-made goods and exported $33.8 billion to the U.S.
He also noted that the U.S. Commerce Department will make a stop in Hong Kong during its upcoming Trade Winds mission to Asia in April. In Atlanta, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council is planning activities related to financial technology and other key sectors in March.
Still, the protests have strained Hong Kong’s economy and presented a mounting challenge for its international image.
The fight started over a proposed extradition treaty that would have allowed accused criminals to be sent from Hong Kong into China for trial. The measure was withdrawn, but protesters have continued to hit the streets, issuing more demands as they vent anxiety over the fragility of China’s “one country, two systems” experiment.
The U.S. has expressed sympathy with the protesters. President Trump over Chinese objections signed into law the Hong Kong Democracy Bill in November, requiring Congress to evaluate its autonomy from China each year to avoid having its special trade status revoked.
Hong Kong’s unique arrangement has led to prosperity since the British handed the city over to China in 1997. The Asian financial center has served as the key conduit for investment in and out of China during the latter’s meteoric rise.
Echoing Ms. Lam’s message in Davos, Mr. Mak said those fundamentals remain strong.
He pointed to the record turnout in November District Council elections, where 3 million people cast votes. (Some took it the opposite way, viewing voters as seizing the opportunity to issue a rebuke to China at the ballot box.)
“It is the common aim of all in Hong Kong to end the prolonged unrest, restore calm and rebuild trust. We continue to engage with people from all walks of life to re-establish a path to peace and harmony,” Mr. Mak said.
Hong Kong will continue to address economic issues that have driven discontent, he added, increasing land and housing supply, building infrastructure and investing more than $12 billion in innovation and tech initiatives in which U.S. university involvement is welcome. The city is also a key part of China’s plans to create a new Silicon Valley in the so-called Greater Bay Area in the Pearl River Delta.
The director concluded on an optimistic note, wishing guests a happy Year of the Rat, which he said symbolizes a “fresh reboot.”
“There are varied expectations on where Hong Kong is and where it is going. Nonetheless, it is my belief that time will once again testify to the resilience of Hong Kong’s institutional strengths. These strengths, coupled with our core values – many of which we share with the U.S. – ballast Hong Kong. It is in our own interest to safeguard them.”
Joanne Chu, director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, also offered remarks at the event.
China’s Consul General in Houston, Cai Wei, was also in attendance.