Friends, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am greatly honored to be invited to speak to you on this auspicious occasion to commemorate the opening of the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre. I still recall vividly the first time when Mr. Ronnie Chan, in his “nothing is impossible” spirit, came to see me about building Asia Society's Hong Kong Centre. Tonight I am therefore particularly proud that this mission has been accomplished and indeed accomplished with style, taste and quality. Congratulation to you all for your steadfast and tireless effort to make this a reality.
56 years ago, Mr. Rockefeller established the Asia Society in New York, with the aim to strengthen relationship and promote understanding between the peoples of America and Asia. Half a century later, Asia Society is the most prestigious and influential organization that builds bridges across the Pacific. To all of you who are here tonight, who have contributed to this effort, well done and many thanks.
In the same half a century, breathtaking changes have taken place in Asia. Through their own efforts, countries long under colonial rule build up their nations on the rubble of the Second World War to what it is today. We did this through emphasis on developing our economy, improving our people’s livelihood and developing our participative political systems, very often in this particular order. Open trade, capacity building, prudent fiscal and monetary policies, and the spirit of learning from each other and from the developed nations have all been part of the reasons of the success. So today Asia has taken off. In 2010, Asia countries’ GDP amount to about 16 trillion US dollars, and accounted for nearly 27% of the global GDP. According to an Asian Development Bank report last year, by 2050 Asia’s total GDP would equal to around 50% of the world economy.
Asia has not only prospered economically, but also flourished culturally. On this vast continent, many countries practice multiculturalism, and pursue harmony amongst different races and religions within and across national boundaries. The best example of this is the ASEAN, and also ASEAN+3. This group of nations, with the population of over 2 billion people, held many different religious beliefs, with a wide range of cultures and traditions. Despite these differences, each country tries to absorb the best from the other, and strive to achieve peace and harmony for common prosperity. This is not only beneficial to ASEAN+3 and the whole of Asia, but also to the world as well.
In the rise of Asia, the US was an indispensable partner. The US fought shoulder to shoulder with many Asian countries during the Second World War, and assisted many countries in Asia after the war to ensure their economy recovery. The US, for years and years, has played a significant part in Asia.
So to those Americans who recently said that they are now back in Asia, let me say this to you, as far as we are concern, you never left. You are always part of Asia, and part of the Asia Pacific. Your presence is welcomed and you will continue to play a key role in our common future.
There has been a great deal of talk about China’s territorial disputes with her neighbors. Territorial disputes exist in this part of the world because of historical reasons. For one thing over the past hundred years or so, when China was weak, and many of her neighbors were under colonial rule, territorial demarcation was not a focus of discussion or attention, although China from time to time would declare her historical rights. But territorial disputes and border demarcation is an issue that needs to be resolved for modern statehood. So, since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has resolved territorial disputes with 11 of her 14 neighbors, by and large in a peaceful way. Never before in the history of nations have territorial agreements on borders been achieved peacefully in such a scale. There are still three territorial disputes China has with her neighboring countries, one with India, the other with Japan and the third with some ASEAN countries. In these disputes China would continue to apply her principle of settling them peacefully, as she has done in the past. These objectives are by and large shared by the other countries. The issues are complicated, it would take time and patience, but China is determined to find a peaceful solution. There is also the issue of freedom of navigation through South China Sea that has been raised in the recent past. The fact is that there has always been freedom of navigation on the South China Sea. It was never an issue in the past, it should not be an issue in the future. This freedom of navigation need to be, and will be protected.
Now before I finish, can I say a few words about US-China relations? 40 years ago this week, US and Chinese leaders met in Beijing. With strategic vision, they broke decades of estrangement and ushered in a new relationship between the two countries. Indeed this act of enormous courage and wisdom changed the world forever. Since that time, 8 Presidents of the US and 4 generations of Chinese leadership have pursued the objective of improving the US-China relations. Because of their persistent efforts, you can see this important relationship, despite its ups and downs, has been improving steadily. Furthermore the importance of the relation is being increasingly recognized by the people of both countries.
Friends of Asia Society, you have made the right decision of building the Hong Kong Centre here. Hong Kong is the focal point of East-West culture, Hong Kong is a world city of Asia. Hong Kong is also one of the most important cities of China. What better place than Hong Kong for Americans, Chinese and Asians to understand each other.