Policy addresses by colonial governors before 1997, and by the chief executive since the handover, typically cover a broad range of topics - from how the government will tackle various social problems to how it will promote Hong Kong overseas. But one issue not discussed is the city's policy on external relations, or the absence of one. This is despite the fact that the SAR has long been accepted by the international community as a distinct non-sovereign polity and maintains separate membership in many international organisations. The only point where Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa came close to addressing the city's external relations in Wednesday's policy address was on the issue of how his administration would continue to promote and develop Hong Kong as Asia's world city. Once again, he trumpeted the fact that Hong Kong was a city that provided quality services and an ideal regional base for multinational corporations and mainland enterprises. Regrettably, it is also an inward looking perspective of Hong Kong's role in the world that contains nothing about how we should contribute to the international community as a global citizen ranking among the top 20 countries in the level of affluence per capita of gross domestic product. After the overwhelming response by Hong Kong people to help victims of the Asian tsunami, however, some of the city's leading think-tanks and non-governmental organisations have been challenging the community to break free from this parochial mindset and consider what it can do for the world. Tomorrow, 'Hong Kong's Responsibilities and Contributions in a Globalising World' is the theme of a seminar co-hosted by Oxfam Hong Kong, SynergyNet, Hong Kong People's Council for Sustainable Development, Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, Civic Exchange and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service. The seminar will be held at the social service council's office in Wan Chai. Historically, the special administrative region's introspective world view is linked to its non-sovereign status, one that has robbed it of the prerogative of conducting foreign relations as a sovereign country. But that is not to say Hong Kong has not been maintaining rich and extensive relations with foreign countries or has failed to champion its interests overseas. Under Britain's colonial administration, it successfully developed the capability to conduct external relations, albeit as part of the British delegation in international organisations. This uniqueness was preserved after 1997, with the Basic Law providing that Hong Kong can maintain its status in the international community as a distinct entity under Chinese sovereignty. Using the name 'Hong Kong, China', we are notably an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation member, whose members also include the mainland and Taiwan. Hong Kong, as a separate customs territory, is also a member of the World Trade Organisation. Chapter seven of the mini-constitution stipulates that Hong Kong can 'maintain and develop relations and conclude and implement agreements with foreign states and regions and relevant international organisations in the appropriate fields, including the economic, trade, financial and monetary, shipping, communications, tourism, cultural and sports fields'. It is by the authority in these provisions that Hong Kong has concluded various agreements with foreign countries on aviation, visa control and cultural exchange with the central government's endorsement. The Hong Kong government and statutory bodies such as the Trade Development Council and the tourism board have continued to maintain a network of overseas offices. Yet, reflecting an inward looking mentality that has guided Hong Kong's conduct of external relations, the missions of all these offices can be boiled down to the single theme of promoting the city and attracting investors and tourists. Most are largely located in capital cities in the developed world and none can be found in countries of relative poverty, even if they may be our close neighbours. Nothing in their remits touch on Hong Kong's responsibilities and contributions to the world in terms of providing aid and solutions to help address problems that afflict the world. The way in which the government responded to the Asian tsunami highlighted its glaring deficiency in this respect. The only avenue through which it can provide help is in the Disaster Relief Fund, which has a small budget and channels aid to victims mainly via non-governmental organisations. After making transfers to top up the fund to $43 million, the government resisted calls to give more, pointing to the sizeable community donations made. The lack of a wider vision on what Hong Kong should do as an affluent member of the international community explains why the city, despite being ranked 17 on The Economist's wealth league, is not among the biggest donors of foreign aid - unlike countries that enjoy a similar level of affluence, including Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Finland, Germany, Canada, Belgium and France. Perhaps the notion of foreign aid is taboo among officials, as its provision is usually seen as a means of buying political capital overseas and regarded as the prerogative of sovereign countries. Yet, it would be a shame if Hong Kong, having been a beneficiary of foreign aid when it was poor, were to abstain from discharging its moral obligation of giving to the needy now that it has become affluent, on the grounds that it is not a sovereign country. Although it has become a part of China, there is also no reason why Hong Kong should be content with the one-dimensional way in which it has conducted its external relations. Rather, it should exploit the full possibility afforded by the Basic Law's provisions and, in particular, its new-found status as a unique part of China under the 'one country, two systems' principle to play a bigger role in the global community. In fact, the Tung administration has not been blind to the vital issue of how Hong Kong should conduct its external relations. The Central Policy Unit is understood to have commissioned a study last year. A key recommendation in the study, which has not been released, is that the government should appoint a principal official to take responsibility for Hong Kong's external relations strategy. Among other things, the study also recommends expanding the remit of the government's economic and trade offices (ETOs) overseas to cover cultural exchange. To ensure better division of labour among the key agencies that represent Hong Kong overseas, the study proposes that the ETOs should co-ordinate the network of offices separately run by the Trade Development Council, the tourism board and InvestHK. Leveraging on the city's geographical location, the study envisions Hong Kong positioning itself as the centre of information for southern China and further pursuing its integration with the Pearl River Delta with an international flavour. As a highly sophisticated city, Hong Kong should also take the intellectual lead on formulating solutions for regional problems and the government should build up mechanisms to enable effective co-operation with the private and non-governmental sectors internationally, says the study. So far, it does not appear that the study's recommendations have been implemented, although some of their flavour can be found in initiatives undertaken by individual bureaus or departments. Another Central Policy Unit study on the non-government sector in Hong Kong has included a chapter on international and cross-boundary organisations operating here. It found that these organisations felt 'Hong Kong has the potential to be an excellent resource centre and operating base for international operations', but has failed to capitalise on many of its advantages, such as its expertise in logistics. In the past few years, InvestHK and the Trade Development Council have teamed up with mainland cities in the Pearl River Delta to promote the region as a destination for foreign investment. Last year, the Home Affairs Bureau spearheaded the conclusion of cultural exchange agreements with South Korea and Singapore. But there is as yet no over-arching strategy to co-ordinate and synthesise the various efforts made by individual government departments, statutory bodies and non-governmental organisations in conducting Hong Kong's external relations. Nor has there been any conscious attempt to re-orient our inward-looking world view to one that also puts an equal emphasis on how Hong Kong can contribute its wealth and expertise to the global community. The only bright note is that Hong Kong people have become more willing to donate to international charities and many have become volunteers serving in the most impoverished parts of the globe. Non-governmental organisations are also trying their best to showcase Hong Kong's ability to contribute to the world. For example, last year the University of Hong Kong's law faculty successfully won the bid to organise training classes here for 32 representatives from Asia-Pacific countries on WTO trade policies.