Cohen Visits Hong Kong on Third Asia Swing
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 1998 Defense Secretary William Cohen makes his third visit of the year to Asia when he arrives in Hong Kong Nov. 1.
After meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa, Cohen will continue on to Korea and Japan before returning to Washington Nov. 6.
In Korea, the secretary is expected to meet with U.S. service members at or near the Demilitarized Zone and at Osan Air Base. He also will participate in the 30th annual security consultative meeting between the United States and Korea, and visit Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and Foreign Affairs Minister Hong Soon Young.
Cohen will fly Nov. 4 from Osan to Yokota Air Base, Japan, for meetings with Japan Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga and his staff. He is slated to attend a Nov. 5 breakfast with U.S. military commanders based in Japan at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and to meet with other U.S. and Japanese leaders throughout the day.
Cohen's visit to Hong Kong, which came under Chinese rule last summer, continues his quest for stronger defense relations with the Republic of China. The secretary traveled to Beijing in January, where he signed an agreement with Chinese defense leaders to improve cooperation at sea between the two countries' navies.
The U.S. military's importance to regional stability was one of the secretary's recurring themes during his Asia trips in January and August. "We are with you in good times and in bad," he repeatedly told Asian leaders whose countries have suffered severe economic depression.
He said the American military presence provides the region the stability it needs to recover economically and to chart its future course without fear of aggression from any neighbor. Such stability, he said, will pave the way for renewed economic prosperity throughout Asia and the Pacific Basin.
The Asian financial crisis this year pummeled Indonesia, Korea and Japan, but hasn't been quite as harsh to Hong Kong's economy. U.S. Consul General Richard Boucher credits the island- city's resilience to minimal governmental interference in Hong Kong's commercial and financial affairs.
"When we look around the region at the immense problems facing other societies, we see clearly that Hong Kong's economic management team has handled the crisis well," Boucher said at the June 10 Far Eastern Recovery Conference in Hong Kong.
Cohen's visit there follows a July visit by President Clinton, who reaffirmed the importance of a strong U.S.-Hong Kong relationship. The United States has an estimated $16 billion invested in Hong Kong trade and commerce, with 1,100 U.S. firms and 50,000 Americans residing there. In 1996, the United States was Hong Kong's second largest market, importing nearly $10 billion in Hong Kong goods and services. Hong Kong was America's 14th largest export market that year, taking $14 billion in U.S. exports.
Since assuming control in June, Beijing has granted Hong Kong considerable autonomy in economic and commercial relations. The United States is determined to help preserve Hong Kong's prosperity and way of life, partially through high-level visits such as Cohen's.