A top US official has sought to send a reassuring message that ties between the US and Hong Kong would not be adversely affected by the controversy surrounding US whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary for international trade at the US Department of Commerce, said during an interview with Hong Kong journalists in New York on Tuesday: “Events ... come and go. But the friendship and partnership between Hong Kong and the US is strong.”
“It’s in mutual interest and it will continue to thrive in future,” he added.
A day earlier, plans for a meeting between Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were thrown into confusion when the appointment was postponed. Leung is in New York on a three-day trip to promote trade ties. He was scheduled to meet Bloomberg on Monday morning in New York time, when news broke that Snowden had been holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong.
The 29-year-old American, a former contract employee at the US National Security Agency, recently leaked sensitive documents on the US government’s top secret and extensive domestic surveillance programmes.
The Leung-Bloomberg meeting was postponed because the public attention surrounding the Snowden case had put pressure on the mayor’s office, an informed source told the South China Morning Post on Monday.
The meeting took place later that day at Leung’s hotel. They talked about transport, environmental protection and other issues facing their cities, but they did not discuss the Snowden case. Leung also evaded questions about the case before a dinner in New York on Tuesday.
Sanchez on Tuesday disagreed that the controversy surrounding Snowden would pose any difficulty for Hong Kong-US ties.
“No single event or activity can take us off the track for the great benefits we both gain from continuing to build on our economic and commercial relationships,” he said.
Sanchez made the remarks after a keynote speech at a trade event organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in New York.
Hong Kong journalists also asked Sanchez whether US companies were concerned about the possible impact brought by the proposed Occupy Central protest movement in the Asian city. He said one of the great traditions of both the US and Hong Kong was freedom of speech, expression and protest.
“I don’t know all of the concerns that are going to be raised in the Occupy Central movement. But I commend Hong Kong for giving everyone the right to speak their mind and share their points of views,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez’s remarks came a day after Jack So Chak-kwong, chairman of the Trade Development Council, said in New York that the civil disobedience movement would be just “another form of expression of views” if it proceeds peacefully. So said he did not think US companies would have anything to worry about regarding the movement.