Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2008-09-24

Hong Kong's highest ranking official in the U.S. told a Samford University audience Tuesday, Sept. 23,that her homeland would welcome more trade between the two nations.

"Think of us as a good trade partner who shares your values," Hong Kong Commissioner for Economic and Trade Affairs Margaret Fong said during a talk sponsored by Samford's Brock School of Business.

Fong cited Hong Kong's "vibrant and resilient" economy that has shown steady growth in the years since 1997, when the territory became a part of the People's Republic of China. Its economy recovered following the Asian financial crisis in 1998, the .com bust in 2000 and the SARS health incident in 2003.

Hong Kong is small, but is ranked sixth in the world in Gross Domestic Product. The U.S. ranks fourth, said Fong, who directs Hong Kong's efforts in promoting U.S-Hong Kong economic trade relationship as well as constituency-building in the U.S.

Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, was a dependent territory of the United Kingdom from 1842 until the transfer of its sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997.

Under the "one country, two systems," policy, Fong said, the people of Hong Kong treasure the institutions and way of life they have grown up with. "It is important that we continue to live in that manner."

"We will continue to practice common law, be responsible, and see that rights are protected. We have remained the freest economy in the world, and believe that is the way that will lead us forward," she said.

Fong spoke as part of the business school's international business speakers series. Her visit was co-sponsored by The Gaffney Group, the Birmingham Chinese Festival Association and the Alabama Development Office.

She noted Hong Kong's reputation for its efficient port and international air cargo handling, well-enforced intellectual property legislation and independent judiciary system with power of final adjudication. That its international arbitration center is used by many companies, said Fong, "Says a lot about the Hong Kong system, and the importance of the rule of law."

As an international financial center, Hong Kong is home to 68 of the world's top 100 banks and is considered the business hub of Asia. It is the second largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Asia, second only to mainland China, said Fong. Almost 4,000 businesses have regional headquarters in Hong Kong.

Fong said Hong Kong values nature conservation, energy efficiency and the reduction of emission of greenhouse gasses.

"Hong Kong has pledged to reduce energy intensity by 25 percent by 2030, and is hopeful of exceeding that goal," she said.

More than 60,000 Americans live in Hong Kong, and last year more than 1.2 million Americans visited there.

Visitors from the U.S., she said, were the top spenders of all of Hong Kong's international guests.

Hong Kong schools are involved with 140 student exchange programs with U.S. educational institutions.

Samford has a relationship with Hong Kong Baptist University, where students may study for one or two semesters.

Fong's audience of Samford students, faculty and area business leaders included at least two students with particular interest in her talk.

Andrew Westover, a senior history major from Knoxville, Tenn., spent the spring semester studying history and art at HKBU. "It was wonderful," Westover said of his experience.

Kley Sippel, a freshman business major from Simpsonville, S.C., wanted to hear about an area that he has already tapped as a possible foreign study site.

"It was great to learn about the language, law, and what a large financial center Hong Kong is," said Sippel, who plans a concentration in international business. "I would like to study in Hong Kong because it would introduce me to a new culture."

Samford president Andrew Westmoreland noted that he and his wife, Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland, and their daughter, Riley, had enjoyed a visit to Hong Kong last summer.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.