New US envoy in Hong Kong seeks one-on-one meetings with all 70 lawmakers as he praises city’s ‘specialness’

Tackling the issue of independence, Kurt Tong stresses that Hong Kong is definitely a part of China but Washington values its high degree of autonomy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 11:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 11:16pm

Washington’s new man in Hong Kong has set up one-on-one meetings with all 70 members of the city’s newly elected legislature as a priority and employed the language of diplomacy to answer questions about its nascent independence movement.

At his first major public appearance since becoming United States consul general for Hong Kong and Macau a month ago, Kurt Tong said on Thursday he wanted the meetings “as soon as possible” after the lawmakers were sworn in next month, adding that his invitation was open to anyone “regardless of their political views”.

Hong Kong is definitely part of China. But Hong Kong also exists as one of the world’s leading cities, and many people outside China also have a stake in its success
Kurt Tong

Addressing an American Chamber of Commerce lunch, Tong also praised the record number of voters who turned out at the Legislative Council elections on September 4, which he said “showed how much people here are committed to the idea of democratic participation in politics”.

Tong repeatedly stressed what he described as Hong Kong’s “specialness”, its long-standing relationship with the US, and the need to “cherish, protect and maintain” the “one country, two systems” principle under which the city operates.

“I think there is a lot at stake here. Hong Kong is definitely part of China. But Hong Kong also exists as one of the world’s leading cities, and many people outside China also have a stake in its success.

“It would be a great loss to the global commons – economically as well as culturally – if Hong Kong were to somehow lose its ‘specialness’,” Tong said.

Asked to give a view on the small but growing body of public opinion advocating varying degrees of autonomy for the city, from the status quo to full independence, Tong said: “The US view is crystal clear. Hong Kong is definitely a part of China, but we also value the high degree of autonomy it has under ‘one country, two systems’.

“A couple of weeks ago we saw Hongkongers turn out in record numbers to exercise their freedom to participate in choosing the city’s legislature. I think that turnout, with voters lining up late into election night, showed how much people here are committed to the idea of democratic participation in politics.”

How Hong Kong got under the skin of United States Consul General Clifford Hart

On his hoped for meetings with lawmakers the US’ new top diplomat – who is fluent in Putonghua and Japanese but only a Cantonese rookie compared with his predecessor, Clifford Hart, who endeared himself to Hongkongers by mastering the local tongue – said: “Seventy is a lot, so it may take a while.”

The Ohio-born diplomat – who declared himself a keen fan of the Boston Red Sox baseball team – said he had not yet met Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying but was looking forward to doing so.

Tong also kept lunchgoers and media guessing when he declined to explain why, given his surname, he did not resemble a person of Chinese ethnicity by saying that all would be revealed on his Facebook page next month.

Previously Tong was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the Department of State, and before that he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Tokyo.