Editor’s Note: This year marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the country. Over the past quarter-century, with its diverse culture and privileged location, Hong Kong has enticed many foreigners to settle down and build careers. In the third part of China Daily’s “Anniversary Talks” series, we put the spotlight on them to record how Hong Kong has changed their lives and how they have contributed to the city’s development. 

Mark Pinkstone, a former chief information officer for the government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region who has lived in the city for 50 years, has been a firm storyteller of Hong Kong, before and after the city was returned to the country.

The retired official said that to this day, what is standing in the way of his mission is the same — doubters and misinformation fueled by foreign governments and civil rights groups to split the city from China.

This undated photo shows Mark Pinkstone, former chief information officer for the government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY)

1. Why did you come to Hong Kong? How did you overcome the challenges and become who you are today? What have you managed to achieve in Hong Kong so far?

I was working as a journalist on Australian newspapers and sought a higher grading. I worked in the South China Morning Post in Wyndham Street, Central, and that was where I met my future wife, the librarian in the paper. At that time, Hong Kong was one of the world largest publishers, with high-class printing of magazines from around the world. The quality was unparalleled. I spent seven years in publishing before joining the government Information Services Department in 1977. It was a new career that changed my life. I worked through the ranks to become the Government Secretariat press officer as spokesman for all policy secretaries. I retired from the government in 1995 as chief information officer in charge of overseas public relations, which entailed selling the Hong Kong story to the international community pre-1997.

Today, some 25 years later and in my retirement, I am doing the same — selling the Hong Kong story. The obstacles are the same, with doubters and misinformation fueled by foreign governments and civil rights groups. Their objectives, as it is still today, is to separate the Hong Kong SAR from China.

The only difference today is that the city is part of China!

As a resident in Hong Kong for the past 50 years, I can compare the first half of my Hong Kong experience under colonial rule with the second half under the central government. The main difference has been transparency. The colonial administration was extremely secretive, with major decisions made in London without consulting Hong Kong people. Today, the administration is very transparent. 

2. Could you share with us your memories about Hong Kong’s return to the country? How do you and the expatriate community here see the city’s return to the country and “one country, two systems”? Has “one country, two systems” had any impact on their way of life and work in Hong Kong?

A major tourist attraction pre-1997 was Lok Ma Chau, a police post on the border between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. From the hilltop, managed by Hakka women selling tourist souvenirs, one could see a huge panoramic view of Shenzhen (then called Shum Chun), which was only swampland and fishponds. Today it is a thriving metropolis of high-tech industry in gleaming skyscrapers with a population of 17.5 million people, over twice the size of Hong Kong.

When late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping came up with the idea of “one country, two systems”, there were many doubters. “How could a communist regime manage a super-capitalist territory?” they asked. It has, and quite successfully. China itself has shrugged off much of the “communist” facade with a more-socialist outlook, and this has helped the Hong Kong SAR’s capitalism to merge better with the mainland.

The blending has been more like a hand-in-glove relationship, despite efforts by foreign forces to pull the two apart. Together, Hong Kong and the mainland make a powerful trading partnership, to the envy of many. 

3. Since 1997, Hong Kong has seen a growing number of foreigners living and working in the city. The SAR remains one of the most attractive places for talents from all over the world. What is it about Hong Kong that has kept people coming here? What would you say is crucial to attracting talents to Hong Kong from around the world?

The beauty of Hong Kong is its vibes, its busyness, its excitement. Hong Kong is alive and exciting. It is a can-do place where nothing is impossible. It is also tough and competitive. If a foreigner can make it in Hong Kong, he can make it anywhere else. Foreigners have to compete with very talented local professions and can only survive with the experiences they bring from their origins. It is this mix of local and foreign expertise that makes Hong Kong great.

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4. The central government, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, has attached great importance to Hong Kong, helping the city recover from the 2019 social unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. Why do you think the central government is attaching such great importance to Hong Kong? What role has the central government’s assistance played in the SAR’s efforts to overcome these daunting challenges?

For China, the Hong Kong SAR is the goose that lays the golden egg. It is the gateway for its world trade with its common law system and internationally recognized arbitration system. It is basically a free trade port with minimal duties on imports, and its port clearances are swift and efficient. It is in the interests of the central government to keep Hong Kong well-oiled and running with the least disruptions. Unfortunately disruptions do occur, either naturally or by design, and the central government moves quickly to ensure fixes are in place to keep its pearl in the south in smooth running order. A classic example of this is the introduction of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, implemented immediately after the 2019 riots. The law not only provides a safety shield for the local population but also ensures the business community can operate in a safe and secure environment.

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5. This year, Hong Kong celebrates the 25th anniversary of the handover, and is also the halfway mark in implementing 50 years of “one country, two systems”. What about the next 25 years? Some people think that the policy will change after 50 years. How about you?

When late leader Deng Xiaoping spoke about the city’s return to China, he said that “one country, two systems”, the central government’s policy with regard to Hong Kong, will remain unchanged for 50 years and beyond. More than 25 years later, the director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Shen Chunyao, reiterated that Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” governing principle will not change after 2047, echoing the words of Deng.

“One country, two systems” works, despite the forecasts of the doomsday soothsayers. During the past 25 years, most of the bricks have been put in place to build a better Hong Kong. The legal system sets the foundation for a solid base. Law enforcement has been strengthened for stability, and business can operate freely.