- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

HONG KONG 'RESILIENT'

The global financial crisis hit Hong Kong like an economic typhoon, but the “world's freest” market remains “resilient” and fundamentally strong, according to Hong Kong's envoy to the United States.

expects a further drop in economic growth of 2 percent to 3 percent this year and that unemployment will increase beyond the current rate of 5 percent.

“Despite the downturn, Hong Kong's economic fundamentals remain strong,” he told the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington this week.

“Hong Kong is resilient,” he added, noting that communist China's special free-market enclave rebounded from the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, the SARS respiratory virus and the outbreak of bird flu.

Mr. Tong, Hong Kong's commissioner for economic and trade affairs in the United States, said the financial crisis clipped Hong Kong's vibrant economic growth, knocking it down to 2.5 percent last year from a high of 6.4 percent in 2007.

However, he said that Hong Kong banks are “healthy and robust.”

Mr. Tong noted that the Hong Kong government did inject $23 billion into the banking system as a stimulus measure and guaranteed all bank deposits without a ceiling. The government also approved $38.6 billion for health care, social welfare, education and environmental programs.

A city of 7 million that is consistently ranked the world's “freest economy” by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal in the annual “Index of Economic Freedom,” Hong Kong succeeds because of a “can-do” spirit, Mr. Tong added.

CUBA SAYS, 'NO'

After feting a group of congressional Democrats who praised , the Cuban government rejected visas for another group of Americans who wanted to investigate religious restrictions on the communist-ruled island.

“We are very disappointed by the Cuban government's refusal to allow an official U.S. delegation to investigate firsthand Cuban citizens' freedom to believe and practice their faith on the island,” said , chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“Our commission has visited China, Vietnam, Laos, Saudi Arabia and other countries. Does the Cuban government has something to hide?”

She added that the commission wanted to visit Cuba because it has received reports of improvements in some sectors of Cuban society since replaced his older brother as leader in 2006.

“If everything is so normal in Cuba, then the Cuban government should welcome a [commission] visit,” she added. “Not allowing the [commission's] bipartisan delegation to visit is a very disturbing sign.”

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