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The Rt Hon the Baroness DUNN




The Rt Hon the Baroness DUNN

Doctor of Laws
honoris causa

You have chosen today to honour an art educationalist, a lawyer, a social worker and a businesswoman-cum-politician. The rule of law, the pursuit of enlightenment, the care of the under-privileged, and the generation of wealth are the cornerstones of a decent and compassionate society. Without economic growth we can do nothing to improve the standard of living. Without a good education system, we cannot build for the future. Without an independent judiciary and the rule of law, we cannot retain the consent of the governed. And without courage to face and cure the blemishes in our society, we shall be vulnerable to disharmony.

A degree ceremony is a moment of pride and a moment for reflection. I should like to take this moment to reflect on the reasons why I believe that we can and should take pride in what we have achieved in the last forty-five years. Hong Kong people are famous for their hard work and self reliance. Since no-one is going to bang the drum for us, I believe that we should start banging the drum a little for ourselves.

It is inevitable and understandable that our community should be preoccupied with its future, on the threshold of the unique social and political experiment enshrined in the Sino British Joint Declaration of 1984. Neither the Joint Declaration nor the Basic Law nor any number of assurances from the British, Chinese and Hong Kong governments can be expected to remove all anxiety; no one has tried before to do what Hong Kong and China will be seeking to achieve after 1997. This naturally gives rise to moments of doubt and anxiety.

These anxieties and doubts are exhaustively discussed and analysed in speeches, in newspapers and in conversations in all our homes. My purpose today is not to ignore these doubts, but to take a look at the other side of the coin.

One of Hong Kong's greatest strengths is its forward and outward looking nature. Too much satisfaction at past achievements brings complacency. However, I think we can afford from time to time to reflect a little on the extraordinary success that Hong Kong has achieved since it emerged as a depopulated and devastated trading outpost after the Second World War. Since then, we have become the eleventh largest manufacturing and trading economy in the world. Our gross domestic product per capita is second only to Japan in Asia. We are a significant world player in commerce, finance, services and manufacturing.

This success has produced a modern dynamic city, famous for its tall buildings, its bright lights and conspicuous evidence of the extraordinary wealth that has been created. But beneath the glitter there are a host of more modest tales of success and of the achievement of financial security which to me represent the real strength of Hong Kong, and the achievements in which we can take the most pride.

For each of Hong Kong's high profile billionaires, there are hundreds of thousands of people who started with nothing and who now enjoy a decent home and ability to provide a level of security and prospects for their children of which they can be proud. For every high profile conglomerate quoted on our stock exchange, there are tens of thousands of private businesses which have flourished, and which have made their owners comfortable, and given their employees their own start on the road to financial security.

For every success story, there is also a story of people who by ill-luck, poor judgment or misfortune have not succeeded, but who picked themselves up and started again. Hong Kong's business culture may at times seem brash and aggressive, but it is open to all and there is equality of opportunity. In Hong Kong, inherited wealth and social position are not a guarantee of success: nor does the lack of them constitute and obstacle to success.

Hong Kong tends to be viewed as a success story only in economic terms. But culturally, too, Hong Kong has much to be proud of. By its geographical location, its history and its role as an international trading economy, Hong Kong is a place which brings together the best of East and West.

From the East, we retain the best of our Chinese culture: respect for the family and respect for the elderly; a strong belief in self reliance and hard work. From the West, we take the rights and freedoms guaranteed to us by the common law. We have an innate respect for freedom and the rule of law. We expect that those in authority as well as we ourselves to be bound by the law. Hong Kong offers an opportunity to learn and work to all who will take it. We do not discriminate on the basis of religion, class, colour or sex. We welcome ideas and people from all over the world. Our own tastes are cosmopolitan, and we are alert to, and ready to accept and adapt innovations from any part of the world. This openness of spirit combined with our Chinese heritage has given a unique character to Hong Kong and to the people of Hong Kong.

Ours is a free society in which each individual is free to pursue his own interests within the law. As the former Attorney-General, now my husband once said in the Legislative Council:

"The freedom established by law gives energy, enterprise and confidence to Hong Kong's people....Everyone knows that in the last resort his rights will be enforced by the Courts of Justice. That gives them confidence in their dealings with one another and with Government."

We have achieved these bedrocks of a free and open society thus far without any of the political institutions normally regarded as essential for maintaining individual rights and freedoms.

Perhaps I may be permitted to digress here to make this point. It is important that we distinguish between form and substance. Much of the intense debate on political and constitutional change in Hong Kong over the past few years has often failed to make this distinction. We can all name territories near and far which have forms of democratic institutions. Yet their people do not enjoy the freedoms that we in Hong Kong take so much for granted.

Systems of government, including democratic processes, are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. It is society's belief in the law, and attitude to the law, and the submission by those who hold executive power to the law, which are the primary defences against tyranny. Democratic processes can and usually do play a valuable role in making the holders of power accountable for their actions, but they are not of themselves a guarantee of freedom.

It is often said that confidence is the key to Hong Kong's success. This is true, since without any significant natural resources, Hong Kong has had to rely on the willingness of its people to invest their time, their labour and their money in building a future for themselves here. There is a tendency to believe that confidence is something which Hong Kong can have handed to it on a plate by the governments on whom it has had to rely to make its constitutional arrangements. It is of course frustrating for a community of energetic, self-reliant and well-educated people to be forced to rely on others for arrangements which most other communities are permitted to determine for themselves. But we must not lose sight of the obvious fact that the most important component of confidence is self-confidence. Pride in our achievements can induce greater self-confidence. Nothing succeeds like success.

Hong Kong of course has its blemishes and its failings. But we can and should be proud of what we have achieved. For our achievements are our own. Post-war Western Europe benefited from the Marshall Plan, which poured goods, equipment and money into the reconstruction of the European economies. Nothing like this was done for Hong Kong. The Hong Kong which exists today has been built by Hong Kong's own people without aid or subsidy. We have triumphed over problems of people, poverty, drought, riots, banking crises and economic recession, and we have earned the respect and attention of mighty nations around the world.

Let us therefore take a moment to rejoice in what our parents and we have achieved. If we do so, I believe that the anxieties and doubts about the future may be seen in better perspective. Viewed against the challenges we have already overcome, we must surely have it in ourselves to overcome the challenges of 1997.

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