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Ladies and Gentlemen:


May I begin by thanking you for inviting me here to speak — as we honor 25 years of Hong Kong’s return to China, and recognize 25 years of unity and progress. This moment is a special milestone in our history and one we will not forget.


As a global city, Hong Kong has benefited from ‘One Country, Two Systems’ — a unique policy that embeds the qualities of vision, purpose, and intent. It leverages Hong Kong’s unique advantages and has allowed millions of people to fulfil their potential. Advancing the human condition is a rare opportunity anywhere in the world. But, thanks to China, Hong Kong is a rare exception to this rule.


Indeed, looking back on the success of the past quarter century, ‘One Country, Two Systems’ has positioned us in the right place, at the right time — and has unfolded a future of great and far-reaching opportunities. We are very proud that Hong Kong is a part of China.


When I speak of the “future”, I think of young people everywhere in this world who are struggling to adjust to a rapidly changing world where war, terrorism, poverty, climate change, and disease outbreaks have sadly become the norm, and not the exception.


But I also see these grand challenges through the lens of higher education — from where I sit as President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Hong Kong and, more simply, as someone who believes in the power of knowledge and learning.

To me, education is the key that unlocks the possibilities in each and every human being. It reshapes lives. It reinvents communities. It progresses human civilization.

Education — in particular, higher education — transforms families in a single generation… and parents and grandparents leapfrog the traditional timeline of progress when young people are nurtured to success. Thus, we have a real chance to positively impact entire communities.

This has a direct link to the opportunities created by ‘One Country, Two Systems’. In the past 25 years, academic interactions between Hong Kong and the mainland have grown significantly and flourished. This is especially important to our context in Hong Kong because meaningful change occurs when we meet, share, and collaborate.

HKU, among others, is helping to drive this dynamic and fruitful journey. We were one of the first to offer exchange programs with the mainland, giving our students a chance to thrive and develop through experiential learning with fellow Chinese — bringing them up close to the ‘people’ and ‘places’ that are the backbone of this important country.

China’s reform and transformation over the past 40 years, and its standing on the international stage, is something all of us can be very proud of. China is not only the world’s second largest economy, but also the biggest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping forces — which helps countries to navigate the complex path from conflict to peace. China is also a champion of the Sustainable Development Goals, which unites the world with a common global agenda. The possibilities are endless: with a population of 1.4 billion people — we, Chinese people, represent the largest portion of global humanity.


I want our young people in Hong Kong to know they are part of this great nation, and that together we can achieve anything we set out to achieve. In our exchange programs, students travel to mega cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. But they also venture into towns and villages in remote and rural areas — reaching beyond the skills they gain on the HKU campus, and immersing themselves in unfamiliar cultures and environments.


This is how they learn to participate and contribute to the world around them, including China. Indeed, academic success is emptier if we don’t encourage them to towards a life of public service for social good.


Over the years, our students have taught classes in Gansu and helped build new schools in Guangxi. And although I was not at HKU at the time, I was touched to hear that they also cared for the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008.


Clearly, these are life-changing experiences that go beyond what exchange programs normally offer. But we’ve found that when our students “teach”, “build”, and “care”, they contribute to the development of China while gaining important insights into the global challenges shaping the future.


Be it poverty, hunger, or access to higher education, people around the world are struggling to survive. And we, as leaders of higher education, have a moral duty to encourage the academic community to use our skills and compassion to solve the problems we witness around us.


Universities in Hong Kong — not only our own — are bringing young people together in the name of humanity, and in the cause of a better and safer world. And I pledge to continue encouraging our students in this direction.


Today, humanity faces a fight for survival — and what happens next depends on how we act for the well-being of our country and also the planet.


As Chief Executive Carrie Lam said today, we must unite to build solutions. HKU has opened a new institute with a focus on climate change and carbon neutrality. We are gathering international expertise and we are examining policy and technology.


How can we contribute? How can we add value? But more importantly, how can we effectively help our country to inspire a next generation of climate leaders? We must impact the world in deep and transformative ways.


In academia, we sometimes lose our impact when we revert to old habits and think in silo. The Sustainable Development Goals, which I mentioned earlier, is one model for global cooperation. We should focus on the outcomes we want to achieve — and respond to the higher calling that humankind requires of each of us.


The world today faced more threats than at anytime since the end of the Second World War. This is a time of interconnected crises that is testing our strength and resolve. In this pandemic, the entire world was plunged in an er of fear, loss, and suffering.


Many doctors, nurses, and other health workers from Hong Kong worked together with their colleagues from the mainland to save many lives in Hong Kong. We thank everyone for risking themselves in order to protect others.


Universities including our own have responded in unique ways. In the first weeks of COVID-19, scientists at HKU achieved a number of ‘firsts’ that gave the world a head-start on an unknown disease.


Microsoft Academic ranked HKU number one internationally for coronavirus research, while new awards for our work during the SARS outbreak in 2003 recognizes that preparedness is more important than ever. Again, we are acutely aware that university campuses are not isolated places of learning and research, but the centers of the communities we serve.


Today, we have a critical opportunity to consign the biggest challenges to history. If our crises are interconnected, our efforts must be also. I’m excited to share that a new initiative at HKU will reinvent the way we look at global issues across the board, gathering leaders and expertise not only in ageing, smart cities, sustainable living, and more.


Throughout history, science, and innovation have achieved breakthroughs once thought impossible, and China’s latest mission to the Tiangong Space Station is proof of this.


Higher education has a unique role to play in advancing the human condition. I speak humbly on behalf of my fellow university presidents when I say that the academic community in Hong Kong is working to advance the human condition.


The pandemic has taught us one, valuable lesson: that, even in a time of risk and danger, humanity has an opportunity to recover and move forward.


Finally, this brings me onto Hong Kong. Hong Kong has played a historic role as a connecting point between East and West in a that is constantly adjusting. But Hong Kong has urban and institutional advantages with innovation at the forefront of social and economic development.


We are a region blessed with a strategic location — first-class sea, land and air transport, and a diverse lifestyle that has evolved with a heritage of global exchange and a reputation for openness.


At the heart of our city is a harbour that is outward-looking, and we have become a place where people from every country in the world have called Hong Kong “home”. On a personal note, this why I came to Hong Kong four years ago, and why I choose to make my life here.


But, more importantly, Hong Kong can look bravely to the future because of its role as a link to 1.4 billion people on the mainland. Twenty-five years after Hong Kong’s return to China, we know that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ has enabled us to reach our higher potential and realize more possibilities.


Allow me to close with this appeal: when we unify for social good, we can achieve anything. Not only for ourselves, but in a world of great needs where all of us can call each other “sisters” and “brothers” in the global family.


It shouldn’t matter where in the world we were born or what circumstances we happened to be born into. If we have a dream and a purpose, we have a real chance of improving on the lives of the generations before us.


That, to me, captures the spirit of solidarity and globalization and the opportunity that higher education offers. No one country can solve the ills of the world. But, innovation and kindness will help us secure a future without limit and, as a part of China, Hong Kong has much to look forward to.

Hong Kong is a global city that embraces the depth and richness of ‘One Country, Two Systems’. We must maintain our openness and global outlook.


Thank you very much.

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Speech at the Bauhinia Forum

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