Why Security Matters
Mrs Regina Ip, GBS, JP, Secretary for Security, was the Foundation's guest speaker on 16 June 2003. Below is the full text of her speech.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
I must thank the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation for giving me the opportunity to address your luncheon meeting today - it is, indeed, a great honour. I had no hesitation in accepting your invitation, particularly as it allows me to expand a little on a topic that is getting much publicity these days - the national security bill now before the Legislative Council.
The good things in life cannot be taken for granted
So, there are no prizes for guessing the subject of my speech today - 'Why Security Matters'. The same question can be asked of many of the good things in life that we take for granted, such as a clean and healthy environment, or a foolproof medical and health system - hospitals where all the sick who come for help will be treated and cured. Our city's bitter experience with SARS in the past few months is compelling evidence that we cannot take any of these for granted. I'm sure you would agree there are many little things we do to ensure our well-being. Things that matter to us personally, but we don't make a fuss about them. The SARS experience shows that things we were taught to do from childhood, but have overlooked as we grow older, do matter - such as washing our hands; keeping personal hygiene; eating healthy food; maintaining regular physical exercise. These do matter a great deal. One of the most valuable lessons we have learned from SARS is the importance of going back to the basics and keeping up our guard against threats that are unimaginable and unknown. September 11th 2001, and battle against SARS, helped change all that.
Nothing in the security arena is taken for granted
For those of us in the security business, the very nature of what we do - keeping law and order, keeping the community safe, guarding against the unknown and making contingency plans for disasters - means we cannot take anything for granted. Maintaining safety and security is something we have to work at incessantly - often working quietly behind the scene, away from the glare of the public spotlight. Members of the public who have an interest in Hong Kong - whether as local residents or visitors, whether tax-paying or otherwise - have a right to take this for granted. They have a right to expect their government to take care of things for them. But those of us who are in charge of security must have a different mindset - to be always questioning, querying, reviewing and anticipating threats. As General Sir Peter de la Billiere, the Commander of Britain's SAS during the First Gulf War, said in his popular book on the War, we have to be constantly 'Looking for Trouble'.
Why security matters
The story of what we do does not end with just looking for trouble. Trouble-shooting, even before a threat becomes apparent, is equally if not more important. Let me illustrate this by discussing a few important pressure points under my portfolio - dimensions of my work that are vitally important to the well-being of all those residing or visiting Hong Kong, albeit not currently in the public limelight. There are a few obvious examples.
Law and order
With the community-wide pre-occupation with SARS and various economic problems, the crime situation is something that Hong Kong residents do not currently fixate upon. Our overall crime rate of around 420 per 100,000, remains one of the lowest amongst world metropolitan cities; and at this level is one of the lowest in the past 29 years. However, as some of you will have noted, in the first quarter of this year there was an upsurge in the overall crime rate of 9.3%, compared to that in the last quarter of 2002. This was mainly due to an increase in 'quick cash crime', such as pick-pocketing and theft from vehicles. After I announced the increase at the end of the last bi-monthly Fight Crime Committee meeting in May, the community did not seem overly worried. While it was a relief that the surge in petty crime was not a cause for public concern, if left unchecked it could result in an insidious and dangerous deterioration in law and order. So, we have every reason to be as concerned about the rise in petty crime as the persistence of serious and organised crime. The Police are acutely aware of this and are conducting operations at black spots and promoting public awareness of crime prevention measures to combat these offences.
In recent months, there has been a great deal of publicity about promoting tourism, especially with the inauguration of the 'individual tours' from Guangdong, as a means of invigorating our economy. In view of the slackening in domestic consumption and our limited fiscal and monetary options, a demand side stimulus is undoubtedly needed. My bureau and our departments concerned, notably the Police and Immigration, have pledged full support for this new scheme. But tourism from the Mainland needs to be properly managed to ensure maximum benefits for everyone concerned - greater ease of travel for genuine Mainland visitors and real economic benefits for Hong Kong. To achieve these goals, we need to work with the Mainland authorities to put in place a system for issuing visit permits to the right people. A system that allows for appropriate screening before and on arrival, and for corrective action to be taken where required. This also means maintaining an effective criminal justice system that allows for the deterrence, prevention, apprehension and punishment of crime. The security dimension may not be readily apparent to the advocates of greater tourism revenue, but I would venture to suggest that the success of any expanded visit scheme hinges on there being no adverse effect on law and order and overall security.
As the trauma of the September 11 attacks recedes, most of us in Hong Kong can afford to feel relatively unconcerned about on-going terrorist activity in Asia, Africa and the mid-East. While our assessment of the risk of an actual terrorist attack against Hong Kong remains low, we have good reasons to be concerned about global patterns of terrorism. One can never rule out the possibility of Hong Kong being directly affected. Moreover, globe-trotting Hong Kong residents visiting exotic hideaways or business destinations could find themselves suddenly caught up in the midst of a hostage taking drama or bomb explosions. You need look no further than Bali as the most recent example of what I mean. For all these reasons, plus our obligation to the international community to join hands in fighting terrorism, there has been no let-up whatsoever in our efforts to 'look for trouble' on this front.
To the average Hong Kong citizen, the biggest question perhaps is - why does national security matter? A frequent reason advanced for querying the need for national security legislation is the absence of any tangible threat. But then what country that has national security legislation in place is faced with an imminent and palpable threat? Certainly not the UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. The list could go on. I would venture to suggest that the average Hong Kong person might have a problem with the need for national security legislation for the following reasons -
Why security matters
I hope these few examples have helped to illustrate my point that security does matter. Whether it is personal security, physical security of facilities and buildings, the security of societies or of states, security lies at the heart of our well-being. It is a cornerstone of the smooth running of our society. Underlying safety and security enable us to carry on with our normal daily lives unhindered and free from interference. As threats to the security of a state directly affect the well-being of individuals residing within that state, it is in their interests to contribute to upholding its safety and security. I firmly believe that the tragic events of September the 11th in New York and Washington, and of October the 12th last year in Bali, are the stark reminders that deep down none of us can really question why security matters.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation