Citations and Speeches


177th Congregation (2008)

Joseph YAM Chi Kwong

Money has played a very important part in Hong Kong's development and in the aspirations of its residents. I think most of us would agree with the wise words of John Maynard Keynes when he said:

"Lenin was right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction and it does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose."

We have been fortunate in Hong Kong to have that "man in a million". He is Mr Joseph Yam. Few, if any, have had a more vital role in Hong Kong’s monetary and financial affairs, or in the management and increase of its public wealth, than he. Our community owes a great debt to Mr Yam for ensuring, over a period of more than a quarter of a century, the monetary and financial stability that underpin Hong Kong's prosperity.

Having studied at St Paul's College, Mr Yam entered this University in 1967 and graduated with a first class honours degree in economics and statistics in 1970. After a further year as Demonstrator in the Economics Department, he joined the civil service and has loyally served the community as a public servant for 37 years. In the 1980s he was one of a small group involved in key events and processes for strengthening Hong Kong's monetary and financial stability. This involved the introduction of the Linked Exchange Rate system in 1983, putting in place the arrangements and structures for maintaining Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre beyond 1997 and the resolution of numerous banking and other crises. In 1991 he became Director of the Office of the Exchange Fund, and in 1993 was appointed Hong Kong's first Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority shouldering responsibility for Hong Kong's monetary and financial stability. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority's main functions are to maintain the stability of the Hong Kong dollar under the Linked Exchange Rate system; to manage the Exchange Fund (Hong Kong's official reserves, which provide the support for the Link); to promote the safety of Hong Kong's banking system; and to develop Hong Kong's financial infrastructure, particularly with a view to maintaining Hong Kong as an international financial centre. The Authority's outstanding success in fulfilling these onerous responsibilities, during a 15-year period that has seen political transition, economic distress, regional and international crises, and transformation in all areas of national life, is a stellar tribute to Mr Yam's leadership and sure hand.

Together with his colleagues in the Authority, Mr Yam has been responsible for a quiet revolution in the management of Hong Kong's monetary and financial affairs. He has, through a series of reforms, built, almost from scratch, a credible, durable, rule-based currency board to provide the mechanism for ensuring the Linked Exchange Rate system in an age of massive fund flows in and out of the Hong Kong dollar. He has introduced into Hong Kong standards of banking supervision that match the best in the world, and have helped to protect Hong Kong's banks in times of turbulent and stormy weather. He has made sure, by building an innovative and robust financial infrastructure, that Hong Kong continues to be among the great financial cities of the world and, in large part through the deep respect in which he is held internationally, that Hong Kong's voice continues to be heard loud and clear in financial and central-banking fora around the world.

With the progressive liberalisation of China's financial system, he has, more recently, been promoting an interactive relationship between the financial systems of Hong Kong and the Mainland, within the one-country, two-systems framework, to the benefit of both Hong Kong and the whole country.

Mr Yam has received many accolades from banking and central-banking institutions - particularly for piloting Hong Kong through the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. He has been awarded honorary doctorates and professorships by other universities in Hong Kong and the region. And he has written learned works on currency board principles and other technical matters. Mr Yam is indeed a technocrat par excellence, an expert on matters complex and recondite. For his distinguished services he was awarded a Gold Bauhinia Star in 2001.

Yet, far from being remote from the people he serves, he is very much in the public eye, and has been and continues to be the subject of much popular comment. He has put great effort, not just into communicating with the media and politicians, but also with university and secondary school students in lively and rewarding discussions. He was, I believe, the first public official in Hong Kong to write a web-based column - this he began in 1999 (a time even before the word "blog" became widely used) - and he has continued since then to write a weekly, and widely disseminated, reflection on his work and experiences. Indeed, he was recently found, in one newspaper survey, to be Hong Kong's most popular guru of financial advice. He typifies that rare person who has both an understanding of complex technical issues and an ability to put them into language that the rest of us can understand. It has also been claimed that he is the highest paid central banker in the world, but this must remain in the realm of speculation. I can confirm, however, that he occupies the highest office in Central (that is in terms of altitude!). The views from his office windows are spectacular. Whilst on the topic of high offices, I would like to report that Mr Yam has, on four occasions, run up all 88 floors of IFC Tower 2 for charity (on each occasion in less than 30 minutes) and I am sure he is ready to challenge any member of today's congregation to join him!

Mr Pro-Chancellor, it is my privilege and pleasure to present Joseph Yam to you for the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.

Citations written and delivered by Professor Michael Wilkinson, the Public Orator.