Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Anson Chan told more than 125 UC Irvine students Monday that very little has changed since China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in July 1997.
"We still retain our freedom of expression, our freedom of assembly, and we are enjoying a high degree of autonomy," Chan said.
Chan was at UCI as part of a tour promoting Hong Kong: "New Era, New Opportunities."
Appointed chief secretary of the Hong Kong government in 1993, Chan is the first Chinese--and the first woman--to hold the post after 150 years of British rule. She ranks second only to Chief Executive Chee-Hwa Tung.
UCI student Elaine Yip, 18, asked Chan to address the issue of schools in Hong Kong planning to teach lessons primarily in Chinese as opposed to English.
"We have decided that if teachers can't teach effectively in English, then the lessons should be taught in their mother tongue," Chan said. "Until we have effective English teachers, the lessons will be taught in Cantonese."
When asked about Vietnamese expatriates in Hong Kong, Chan said: "There are currently more than 1,000 Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong. We have always dealt with the problem in a humane manner. But the future of the Vietnamese is not in Hong Kong, it is in Vietnam."
Students were enthusiastic about Chan's visit.
"It gives us encouragement from our own country," said Edwin Tsang, 19, president of the on-campus Hong Kong Student Assn. "We are surprised she is in California but really surprised that she would care about what students think."
In a brief interview before Chan's talk, her husband, Archibald Chan, told The Times that his wife "had been through the old regime and the new regime, and she is proof that things are still about the same. I am very proud of her. And I know that she is glad to have this opportunity to talk to the students about their concerns."
Chan also will visit Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Ottawa and Toronto.