US appoints next consul general to Hong Kong

Kurt Tong will take over from Clifford Hart as America’s point-man in Hong Kong in August

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 June, 2016, 9:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 June, 2016, 9:50pm

Washington has named the State Department’s top economic official to succeed Clifford Hart as America’s point-man in Hong Kong.

The US consulate-general announced on Friday that from August its new boss will be Kurt Tong, currently the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Department of State’s bureau of economic and business affairs.

Before that, Tong was the US ambassador for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and deputy chief of mission in Tokyo. The State Department did not indicate what Hart’s next move will be.

While Tong has no direct, focused experience in Hong Kong or China, he speaks Mandarin and has recently been heavily involved in Taiwan’s application to join America’s Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In March, he met Taiwan’s then president-elect Tsai Ing-wen at the Taipei headquarters of the Democratic Progressive Party, which the Beijing authorities long regarded as promoting Taiwan’s independence.

A Hong Kong-based diplomat from a close ally of the US described Tong as unfamiliar.

“I don’t know him,” the diplomat said. “Not a China expert, I think.”

With an economic background, the choice of Tong marked Washington’s preferred focus on trade with Hong Kong and the region, the diplomat added.

Hart, on the other hand, had several postings in the Greater China region before being appointed. He represented the US in the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme.

That Tong does not speak the Cantonese language will also almost certainly set him apart from Hart, who frequently won online compliment for showing off his proficiency of the local language, most recently when he officiated at the dragon boat competition in Stanley a day before his successor was named.

In an interview with the Post last year, he offered this account of what he might be doing after August: “There is always the possibility that I’ll stay in the diplomatic service – the State Department can always surprise you.”

If he ended up in the private sector, “whether it’s based in Asia or back in the United States, I’m really quite flexible”.