Outgoing US Consul General Clifford Hart said one of the issues that he would like to have done more on was helping Hong Kong address the question of human trafficking. He described the issue as “basically slavery.”
“It’s kind of shocking to people here – slavery… we can’t possibly have that,” Hart said in a live question and answer session on Facebook on Tuesday.
“Hong Kong used to be in the cutting edge of dealing with the problem, but international standards have moved forward and Hong Kong has to keep up with them,” he said.
He said it was a policy and legal issue and the discipline forces in Hong Kong were fantastic. “But they are not gonna be able to do more than they are legally empowered to,” he added.
Hart said that he knew many people in the Hong Kong government were serious about the issue.
“I think it will be addressed over time,” he said. “But I would like to see more progress on that.”
Hong Kong was recently downgraded to the Tier 2-Watchlist on the US State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, meaning that the city has joined the ranks of countries such as Uzbekistan, Niger and Afghanistan in its performance in combating human trafficking within its borders.
The government responded in a press release that it “vehemently and categorically” rejected the grading, saying the report did not do justice to the government’s efforts to tackle the issue.
Hart also said the US strongly supports Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly, and Hong Kong people should treasure the achievements of the city.
He added that it was important for Hong Kong people to exercise wisdom, self-restraint and tolerance in working with each other, the Hong Kong government and the central government in Beijing for a better future.
On the implementation of the One Country, Two Systems principle, Hart said “the US government strongly supports it… we think it’s essential to Hong Kong’s success and stability going forward.”
Hart will be replaced by Kurt Tong, who is set to arrive in the city in August. A diplomat for 33 years, Hart will leave Hong Kong next week. But he said he will return to Hong Kong in August after retiring from diplomacy to join the private sector.
“Maintaining a very low profile, I hope,” he said.
Hart has been the Consul General since 2013, after serving as a special envoy for six-party talks with North Korea over its nuclear plans. He was also previously posted in China, Taiwan, the Soviet Union and Iraq.
During his tenure, he was well known for his love for local food, as he often posted photos of himself sampling dishes around the city. He was popularly known to Hong Kong people as “Clifford BB,” which he said he was grateful for.
During the live session, he said Hong Kong was his favourite city in the world for its combination of cosmopolitanism and Chinese culture, fabulous food and extraordinary urban sights. Plain congee and steamed fish were his favourite food in Hong Kong, he said.
Some Hong Kong people have been constantly asking Hart on social media to visit a local sushi restaurant to taste its creative dishes, namely the red bean warship roll. Hart has never publicly said whether he visited it or not.
The topic came up again during the live session. Hart said he did not have any particular comment on it.
“I would merely say: stay tuned,” he said.