Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, New York
Hong Kong

 

Farewell My Friends

After more than 38 years, my Hong Kong public service ends on July 28, 2017. I am experiencing a wide range of emotions: surprise that I have survived so long, delight that I am going to enjoy my pension, sadness at leaving New York and so many wonderful friends in the United States, and excitement about the adventures that are yet to come. I have been reflecting over the last few days about the way that my life and career have turned out.

From police to civil service, in early 80s

I joined Hong Kong’s colonial government in 1979 as an Inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police. I intended to stay for three years – an exotic Asian adventure while I decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life back in England.

Since then, through ups and downs, I have worked continuously in the Hong Kong government. I transferred from the police to the civil service in 1982. That same year, China’s leader Deng Xiaoping, and Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher initiated formal talks over the future of Hong Kong. In those anxious times, there were wide swings in the public mood. The Hong Kong dollar declined precipitously, leading the government to peg it to the US dollar in October 1983.

Negotiating Hong Kong’s destiny

The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong was signed in 1984. It did not satisfy everyone’s desires but, nonetheless, it exceeded most people’s expectations. Hong Kong was assured that its way of life – including its free-market system and civil liberties – would survive for 50 years after 1997 under the unprecedented framework of “One Country, Two Systems”.

The signing of that agreement was not the end of negotiating Hong Kong’s destiny. The Joint Declaration was the skeleton. The next decade saw Chinese and British envoys meeting regularly to put the flesh onto the bones. These talks included issues such as legislation to replace British laws, the city’s finances, the new airport, replacing British colonial civil servants by local Hongkongers and many other topics. Much of my career was closely involved with aspects of this process, and I wanted to see whether we had done enough to help Hong Kong succeed after 1997.

July 1, 1997 came and went. The Union Flag was lowered, and the Chinese flag was hoisted. 

Gloom or doom?

I still remember the forecasts bandied around at that time. Beijing was going to introduce socialism; foreigners would be kicked out; intellectuals would be locked up. These and many more negative stories were forecast with ever greater certainty. Twenty years later, none of it has happened. But that doesn’t dissuade the naysayers from their same narrative that the end of the Hong Kong world is nigh.

Has every decision made by Hong Kong’s government been perfect since 1997? Has everyone in Hong Kong agreed with every action taken in Beijing? No – but Hong Kong’s fundamentals remain strong. Hong Kong today is still a shining beacon in the heart of Asia – free trade, open market, the rule of law, low taxes, zero tolerance for corruption, a high degree of transparency in the city’s administration, and a probing and active press that scrutinizes every decision the government makes.

Challenges – and reasons to be hopeful

There are those who like to portray Hong Kong as in a state of paralysis. Yes, we have robust debates about what policy directions should be pursued, Yes, some lawmakers filibuster. Yes, large numbers of people regularly exercise their legal right to protest. Yes, some public works projects take longer to implement than we would like. Nonetheless, most of the government’s proposed legislation, along with our annual budgets, is passed.

We have enviable public infrastructure, including perhaps the best quality and value public transport system in the world; we house 45% of our population in highly subsidized public housing; we provide 14 years of free public education; our universities (five are ranked in the top 100 in the world) charge about US$5,000 per year in tuition fees. The city remains one of the safest in the world – not one person was killed by gunfire in 2016 – and crime rates continue to fall. And we must be doing something right on healthcare, as we have the longest lifespans in the world.

Nonetheless, Hong Kong still faces challenges. The cost and availability of housing, public satisfaction with our education system, the competitiveness of our economy, the extent of economic integration with the Mainland, and other issues ensure that the new government will have a busy few years ahead of it.

Hong Kong, then and now

I have sometimes been asked whether Beijing interferes in how Hong Kong is managed. Yes, it does. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, Beijing is responsible for certain constitutional matters, foreign policy and defense. Everything else remains the responsibility of Hong Kong under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’ approaches agreed to in the Joint Declaration.

By comparison, under British rule, a new Governor was parachuted into the city every few years from 6,000 miles away. He oversaw every major decision affecting the colony, reported back to Whitehall, and carried out its instructions. Prior to 1997, I occasionally received unsolicited calls and telegrams from Whitehall civil servants.

Since 1997 I have not, not once, been advised what to do, or not to do by a Chinese official. Even though we are not a full-fledged democracy, our head of government, the Chief Executive, is a Hongkonger selected by an Election Committee comprised of Hongkongers to govern and represent Hong Kong.

It is worth remembering that in my police force days, public protests and demonstrations were virtually banned. The British prohibited public gatherings of more than eight people without a permit. It was only after the signing of the Joint Declaration in 1984 that such colonial restrictions were relaxed. Last year, we had on average 250 public protests or demonstrations a week – the vast majority of which were peaceful and without incident. British colonial enthusiasm for democracy followed a similar pattern.

What next? Not tending roses

I have had a remarkably enjoyable and interesting career. I finish off with what has been the most enjoyable posting of my career – as Hong Kong’s representative in New York. I won’t be tending the roses in Britain. I shall be returning home to the place I love – Hong Kong. I shall be taking a break and enjoying a few trips. Then I fully intend to continue to be active in the community. I hope I shall see a few friends from America in Hong Kong when you pass through.

Thank you all for your friendship. Very best wishes for the future.

Steve Barclay

 

20th Anniversary Hong Kong Gala Dinner, June 28, 2017   Hell Gate Sevens, July 8, 2017
20th Anniversary Hong Kong Gala Dinner, June 28, 2017
 
Hell Gate Sevens, July 8, 2017
2017 "Hong Kong Panorama", NYAFF, July 13, 2017   20th Anniversary Hong Kong Gala Dinner, June 28, 2017
2017 "Hong Kong Panorama", NYAFF, July 13, 2017
 
20th Anniversary Hong Kong Gala Dinner, June 28, 2017
Bell-ringing in NYSE, June 28, 2017   2016 "Hong Kong Panorama", NYAFF , June 29, 2016
Bell-ringing in NYSE, June 28, 2017
 
2016 "Hong Kong Panorama", NYAFF , June 29, 2016
Bell-ringing in NYSE, June 28, 2017   Bell-ringing in NYSE, June 28, 2017
Bell-ringing in NYSE, June 28, 2017
 
Bell-ringing in NYSE, June 28, 2017
Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, June 1, 2017   20th Anniversary Hong Kong Gala Dinner, June 28, 2017
Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, June 1, 2017
 
20th Anniversary Hong Kong Gala Dinner, June 28, 2017
2015 "Hong Kong Panorama", NYAFF , June 26, 2015    
2015 "Hong Kong Panorama", NYAFF , June 26, 2015
   

 

 


2017 © | Important notices       Privacy policy      Accessibility                                                                                                                                           Last revision date: July 28, 2017

 

Web For All W3C Web Accessibility initiative    
This website adopts web accessibility design and conforms to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA standard. Should you have any enquiries or comments on its accessibility, please contact us by phone or email.