ON July 4, 1776, 217 years ago today, representatives of the 13 American colonies gathered in Philadelphia to declare their independence from Great Britain. These farmers, merchants and scholars declared that ''these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, free and independent states''. With this Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States set out to build a nation and a government. We, their descendants, will be forever grateful for their courage and wisdom. Their faith in the ability of citizens to govern themselves, and the institutions they established to protect our liberty, have inspired people around the world in their own struggles for freedom and self-government. On July 4, Americans everywhere re-dedicate themselves to fulfilling the dreams of the founding fathers, and addressing the challenges of democracy. More than 25,000 Americans now live here [in Hongkong], and the number is growing. US firms have invested more than US$7 billion in Hongkong enterprises. Almost 12,000 Hongkong students are now studying in the US, and more than 55,000 Hongkong alumni of American universities have returned to work here. Last April, educational organisations from the US joined with their Hongkong counterparts to set up the Hongkong-America Centre on the campus of the Chinese University of Hongkong. I am honoured to come to Hongkong at this important time to serve as US Consul General. My family and I recall with great pleasure the three years we spent in Hongkong from 1983 to 1986. I am confident that ties of friendship and co-operation between the people of Hongkong and the US will continue to grow. As we celebrate this 217th birthday of the United States of America, I wish you all the blessings of peace and prosperity.