US president George H.W. Bush in Hong Kong: photos from his trips between 1978 and 2001

  • George H.W. Bush visited Hong Kong at least seven times in public and private capacities, and once fired the Noon Day Gun
  • He met a variety of people, including Governor Sir Edward Youde, businessman Sir Lawrence Kadoorie, and Anson Chan, head of Hong Kong’s civil service
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 7:00am

Former US president George H.W. Bush, whose state funeral takes place in Washington on Wednesday, visited Hong Kong at least seven times – often delivering words of reassurance concerning its future and that of China.

However, his first high-profile trip to the city came more than a decade before he became president. In April 1978, he was in Hong Kong on business as an executive of First International Bank. He fired the Noon Day Gun in Causeway Bay and told guests at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) talk that he hoped to see a normalisation of relations between the United States and China.

The US president who always had time for his Hong Kong tailor

That was six years after Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing to meet Mao Zedong, which marked the resumption of harmonious Sino-US relations. It also coincided with the opening up of the Chinese economy 40 years ago.

He may have been just another big-shot banker at the time, but it is hardly surprising that Bush’s opinions were being sought by FCC members. Bush had been head of the US Liaison Office in Beijing from 1974 to 1975, before taking on the role of Central Intelligence Agency director for a year in 1976, so he was close to the heart of the US administration.

He was back in Hong Kong again in October 1985, and this time his star had risen. Bush was now the US vice-president, serving as Ronald Reagan’s right-hand man.

He reassured Hongkongers that the US would recognise the controversial new British National (Overseas) passport that was to be used by local travellers after the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

“We will accept it and I am told by the [US] consulate, which has followed the issue closely, that they will have no problem recognising the document,” he told reporters.

Bush reached the pinnacle of power in 1989 when he was elected as the 41st president of the United States. He did not visit Hong Kong during his tenure. However, within 10 months of being voted out of office, in November 1993, he was back in the city making bold predictions.

“The expanding middle-class and demand for pluralism will inevitably move China forward to more individual freedom and more human rights,” he told business leaders at a lunch.

The following year he returned yet again, and made subsequent trips as an elder statesman in 1996 and 1999.

On his last visit, in 2001, Bush expressed his hope that China’s imminent entry into the World Trade Organisation would strengthen a “burgeoning relationship”.

Bush, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, died at the age of 94 on November 30.