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Almost one year into his tenure as Hong Kong secretary for justice, Wong Yan Lung talked with Legal Times reporter Anna Palmer on Sept. 11 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington. The 43-year-old former barrister answered questions about the status of the legal system after it transferred to the basic law of Hong Kong in 1997, Hong Kong’s relationship with China and the larger international legal community, and U.S. lawyers entering the country’s legal market. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.
LT: Has there been any effort to eliminate the red tape for U.S. law firms entering Hong Kong and China? Wong: I think it’s relatively straightforward in Hong Kong. The administration system is very easy; there’s no red tape so far as I know. But there is some restriction generally that the ratio between the number of [Hong Kong and U.S.] lawyers are at a 1-to-1 ratio. There are quite a few U.S. lawyers becoming local lawyers. As Hong Kong lawyers, you can take advantage of Hong Kong and tap the mainland market. Before China entered into the [World Trade Organization], they had already opened it to foreign lawyers, but it was quite restricted. After China entered into the WTO, they have already made it easier. U.S. lawyers, in fact, have been the most successful in terms of setting up representative office in China. Up to last year there were about 140 foreign offices in China; the U.S., I think, occupies 56. They are having a lion share so far.
LT: Do you think many law firms have taken advantage of the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement, which allows lawyers to enter China by first getting certified as Hong Kong lawyers? Wong: I think that’s yet to be seen because CEPA arrangements are relatively new. But judging from the number of U.S. law firms setting up offices in the mainland, I think it would be a matter of interest to them.
LT: What has been the effect of China’s entry into the WTO? Wong: The immediate effect: I think China has started quite a rigorous program of legislation after entry to the WTO because of the WTO requirements and opening of the markets to the outside. Also in terms of opening up their market to the outside, I think they are taking steps, but cautious steps.
LT: What is the state of the basic law since England transferred its sovereignty in 1997? Wong: I think if one touches on that, people will think immediately of the interpretation of the basic law by the National People’s Republic of China as a jumping-off point � that Hong Kong’s undergoing a difficult time. I have to say that’s not my view, especially after I have been appointed. In terms of the rule of law, I think I can say that Hong Kong is going strong. In terms of judicial independence, I think our court has demonstrated that they have been faithful to their oath. The theme of our constitutional basic law is continuity so the commonwealth system continues after 1997. The constitution also, for the first time, conferred a comprehensive set of protections on human rights. Of course, in the implementation of these provisions and protection there inevitably will be litigation.
LT: Have you seen a large increase in the number of cases? Wong: In public-law cases since 1997, yes. That’s because we now have the constitution with the guarantee on human rights. It’s a process of streamlining local legislation in line with the constitutional guarantee. After 1997, both Chinese and English are official languages under the constitution. People now have the right to go to court using Chinese, and that has led to, I think, quite a number of increases in terms of cases.
LT: How has Hong Kong and China’s agreement to enforce reciprocal commercial judgments worked so far? Wong: We just signed the agreement; each side will have to implement it. Hong Kong will put it into legislation. We expect it to be operating early next year, and we will be monitoring the progress very closely.
LT: What are some of the new developments in the legal framework in Hong Kong, such as in antitrust? Wong: Hong Kong, as you know, is still the freest economy, so it’s important for Hong Kong to maintain that. At the same time, it would be important to deal with unhealthy-competition situations. In light of that, I think the administration set up a special committee to review related matters. In July they issued a consultation paper proposing there should be some measures by way of legislation to deal with some anti-competition behavior in Hong Kong, like price fixing or bid rigging � that sort of thing.
LT: Is Hong Kong doing anything related to intellectual property legislation? Wong: We are compliant with the international standard. Also, we are in the course of amending our copyright ordinance to take into account the latest development technology and see what other areas can be improved upon.
LT: What do you see as the biggest issues you will be facing in the next year? Wong: I want to promote various matters which have significance in terms of the rule of law. We have been trying to promote Hong Kong as the regional dispute center apart from our strong legal system of arbitration and mediation in Hong Kong. I see that to be very important. At the moment, in Hong Kong we have the International Arbitration Center, which is already doing very well attracting a lot of international arbitration. On the international side � in areas like money laundering, anti-terrorism � we will continue to work closely with the U.S. and other countries to strengthen our cooperation and also sharing experience.
Working Lunch runs every other week in Legal Times .

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