Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Conference on Hong Kong
June 15, 1998
On behalf of the people of the state of Washington, I’d like to thank the Asia Society in association with the Washington State China Relations Council and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the many business sponsors for hosting this conference. This is a wonderful educational opportunity for all of us. I truly wish I could stay all day, just to listen and learn, for truly much has happened to Hong Kong over the years and the future of Hong Kong well portends the future of much of Asia.
Hong Kong is full of lessons – lessons about economic and social transformation, economic interdependence, the free flow of ideas and information, and the balance between tradition and change.
My Mom and her family are from Hong Kong, so I’ve always felt a special connection with its history and traditions. I first went there to visit my grandmother in 1960, when I was just ten years old. That visit was a revelation to me. I was shocked by the sight of tens of thousands of homeless refugees living on the hillsides, water rationing, and open holding tanks of raw sewage being pumped into the bay. I had never seen that level of poverty before, and frankly, it made a lasting impression on me. And one of the things I learned from that experience was how very American I was and how lucky and proud I am to be an American.
I returned to Hong Kong very briefly in 1990 and again last year, during a trade mission to Japan and China. And once again, my visits were a revelation. The transformation of Hong Kong since my 1960 visit has been stunning. At first glance, it seemed nothing short of miraculous. But the miracle of today’s Hong Kong didn’t come from the waving of a magic wand. It grew out of incredibly hard work, by people who had an extraordinary vision, and the determination to make it come true.
My visits to Hong Kong have been far too brief to make me an expert. On the contrary, they’ve been just enough to whet my appetite and make me want to learn more. So this morning I’d like to pose some questions about Hong Kong that I hope this conference will answer.
The first is this: What can we learn from the experiences of Hong Kong about balancing autonomy and interdependence?
Compared to the United States, Hong Kong might seem small, defenseless, and vulnerable. Yet Hong Kong’s self-confidence and ability to benefit from its relationships with China and the rest of the world are unparalleled. Its economic strength, and its ability to raise the standard of living of its people, continues to be a global success story.
So what can we learn from that? In the global economy of the post-cold war world, all of us are certainly more interdependent than ever before. But here in the United States, I suspect we could learn something from Hong Kong’s attitude about interdependence.
Hong Kong’s confidence in its ability to make the global economy work for its people certainly outshines our own. Here in the United States, there is still a large element of fear about interdependence. Where people in Hong Kong see opportunity, a lot of Americans see a threat to our national sovereignty. And the difference between fear and confidence may make the difference between economic progress and stagnation.
Second, what can we learn from Hong Kong about how international trade contributes to prosperity? These are lessons that far more Americans need to learn, and that more American leaders need to teach. Working families need to know that the path to prosperity leads outward – not inward. To those of us engaged in promoting international trade, this seems obvious. But to many Americans, the world of international trade is murky, mysterious, and frighteningly foreign. They see trade as a threat to their job security, their wages, and their national pride.
It would be wonderful if we could get together some young Hong Kong residents whose parents were among those homeless refugees I saw in 1960, and arrange for them to meet with groups of young Americans. The family histories of those young Hong Kong residents could teach us volumes about the positive, uplifting power of international trade.
If Americans universally understood that lesson, it might transform the way our country does business. We might think more clearly, for instance, about how little sense it makes for the Congress to require unilateral economic sanctions on other countries. We might spend less time each year debating MFN status for China. And we might finally give our president the common-sense authority he needs to negotiate international trade agreements that can expand the circle of prosperity to include more working families here in the United States, and all across the world.
Third and most important, what does Hong Kong tell us about the link between open markets and open minds? By being open to the world; by encouraging the free flow of information and ideas; and by educating its citizens about life outside its borders, Hong Kong has achieved global prominence and prosperity.
It is no accident that the top priority of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, C. H. Tung, is education. That is an important choice that he and I have in common. Education is my first priority because it’s clear to me that in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, every individual and every nation that wants to earn more must first learn more. And for the people of Washington state, that means learning more about our trading partners and friends across the Pacific.
I’ve read that in Hong Kong, the biggest educational challenge of today is the creation of an education system that will produce citizens who are fluent in both Mandarin and English. Frankly, that makes me envious. Here in Washington, I would love to create an education system that produced citizens fluent in more than one language. Instead, we work hard to keep the English-only forces at bay, and to preserve our limited foreign language and bilingual education programs. It is a testament to the progressive and pluralist character of our state that we have succeeded so far. But we cannot become complacent.
Although we pride ourselves on being a trade-oriented Pacific Rim state, we still share with the rest of America a tendency toward insularity. That is changing as our population becomes more culturally diverse, and as our reliance on international trade grows. And conferences like this one are an important and valuable tool for educating our way out of those vestiges of insularity that still limit our horizons.
So I hope that the information and insights generated by this conference will be widely shared with teachers, students, and leaders in every community across our state. And I hope that every participant in this conference will take from it a deeper commitment to spreading the word about how we all benefit from knowing each other better.
Once again, my sincerest thanks to the organizers of this conference, and to everyone who has taken the time to come here to learn, or to teach. I wish you all a productive, engaging and educational experience.
Thank you very much.