What have been the highlights of your three-year posting? A: The big moments: the moments at the handover, some of the events that we attended in the middle of the night and fireworks on the evening of July 1, when we started to relax and think about what was going to happen. Frankly, the first moment we stood on the back of an American Navy ship that was docked at Ocean Terminal for rest and recreation purposes and realised that we were still here, Hong Kong was still here and everything seemed to be pretty much OK. Then there was the first visit by a president of the United States. Eating lunch down at the City Hall restaurant, meeting the boys who were sitting at the table next to us, talking to the cook, seeing that Hong Kong means a lot to us, to Americans, to President [Bill Clinton]. Talking to him about his previous visits, his good memories of his times in Hong Kong. So I guess the big memories are the big moments. Q: Does Hong Kong have a friend in Bill Clinton? A: Hong Kong has always had a friend in Bill Clinton. He came a couple of times in the mid-1980s as governor of Arkansas. He remembers a couple of the fish restaurants, people he met, running around town, coming to the Consul-General's house. He basically has a positive attitude and I think that's true of almost all Americans. They identify with Hong Kong because of the kind of place it is. It is an open place, a free society with free markets. Q: As a diplomat with lengthy experience in China, do you take a longer-term view on United States-China relations than most commentators who currently see a low point? A: It's important to take a long-term view because it's impossible to figure out what is going to happen in the short term. Obviously we've hit a very difficult period in US-China relations. The mistaken and very tragic bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade came on top of a number of other tensions in the relationship. We've tried to make very clear how much we regret that. We have presented a very complete and thorough explanation. How exactly that will play out is a little difficult to say right now. At the same time, many of us believe very strongly that the US and China have common interests in many areas. As we approach the 21st century and see China increasingly take its role as a major player and power, the whole process of integrating China into world institutions, be they trade institutions or human rights standards, proliferation regimes, or an active and positive role in the UN Security Council, remains one of the foremost tasks of coming years. China has an interest in assuming those roles in a responsible manner, in a manner that benefits China - and we all have an interest in seeing China assume those roles in a responsible manner. I believe that regardless of how the immediate period plays out - and since it is clearly in the US' interests and China's interests to co-operate in these areas - we need to get the relationship back on track. I do hope we can get back on track sooner rather than later on World Trade Organisation talks. It is quite clear that our desire is to get back to a co-operative, constructive relationship on those kinds of issues. Q: Is Hong Kong a hostage to US-China relations or does it have some independence? A: It's both. There's the African proverb: when the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. Obviously there's a potential downside for Hong Kong if US-China relations are strained. But Hong Kong is an autonomous place, it's 'one country, two systems'. We have a different relationship with Hong Kong because it is a different place. We work here with Hong Kong on any number of co-operative issues: international economic policy; local economic questions - opening up telecommunications, air services; working on law enforcement questions; protecting intellectual property. We have an across-the-board, very deep and constructive relationship with Hong Kong . . . We've had a few disagreements, fights, a bit of pushing and shoving about some of the economic issues. It's probably good for both of us because we both believe we are among the freest traders and most open markets in the world. Sometimes Hong Kong calls us to account and sometimes we call them to account. It's probably good therapy for both of us. Q: Has the Cox report frustrated you as it is totally at odds with the view you have been presenting of Hong Kong? A: As far as Hong Kong goes, I think the report is based on premises and assumptions. As far as the report goes, we take it as a document that emphasises the importance of working with Hong Kong, the importance of Hong Kong having a good export control system. Happily, Hong Kong does have a good export control system - a world-class system - one that we have been able to work with successfully and carefully to make sure that the rules are applied . . . The assumptions are symptomatic of what happens to people looking at Hong Kong from 200,000 kilometres away. People in Washington, New York and London, even San Francisco make assumptions about what it means for Hong Kong to be part of China. What I try to point out is that Hong Kong is a Chinese city by birth, Hong Kong people are Chinese, Hong Kong geography is Chinese, Hong Kong is naturally a Chinese city. Hong Kong is an international city by dint of its effort. Where the Cox report may be wrong on this is the assumption that being a Chinese city and being part of China means China controls things here, that this is just like the rest of China. I have found that visitors very quickly learn that that's not the case. So we encourage a lot of people to visit. But I think this also shows that it's important for Hong Kong to keep putting itself on the map, to keep moving forward on freedoms, on open markets, on democracy, on all those things that set it apart, and not to think that the debate is about whether Hong Kong is slipping backwards or not. Hong Kong needs to keep asserting itself as an open, international city and if it doesn't do that it's going to find those assumptions are made again and again. Q: When US warship visits were first approved by Beijing after the handover you viewed them as a symbol of Hong Kong's openness. Now they are banned after the Chinese Embassy bombing. What does that say? A: The visit by foreign navy ships to Hong Kong for rest and recreation visits is one of the clearest signs that Hong Kong remains an open international port. At the same time, we have to recognise that it is the central government, the sovereign, that agrees to visits by foreign warships. It is their discretion. But we would hope that the value of these visits to Hong Kong would lead to their reinstatement . . . We will see what happens in the future. They [the visits] are not of any great military significance to us, it is just a nice place to visit. The ships that need to stop at various times can find other places in the region, which is what they are doing now. We have no signs that this is some kind of permanent ban. I would suspect at some point that these visits will recommence and we will find them again to be productive, valuable, useful for our Navy.