President David Granger: Members of the Diplomatic Corps; members of the private sector; relatives of former President Arthur Chung; distinguished guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen. I am very happy to be a part of this ceremony here this afternoon. This is a symbolic occasion and this building is a monument to the deep friendship between the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the People’s Republic of China. It re-enforces the unbroken bond forged one hundred and sixty-five years ago when the first Chinese immigrants landed in West Demerara.
The naming of this splendid structure in honour of President Arthur Chung – and actually his name was not Raymond; his name was Arthur Chung, at least that’s what Doreen Chung told me. This ceremony pays tribute not only to an eminent citizen, a patriot and public servant, but he is also the best known and most outstanding Guyanese of Chinese origin. It pays tribute also to the enduring friendship between our two peoples and our two Republics.
As you heard from his niece, Guyana this year celebrates the hundredth anniversary of President Arthur Chung’s birth in 1918. It is significant therefore that this re-commissioning ceremony should occur in such an auspicious year. As you heard, Arthur Chung was born at Windsor Forest, where the first immigrants landed in West Demerara, on the 10th of January, 1918, the son of Chinese immigrants. His father was an ordinary foreman on a rice plantation. He, a Christian, attended the Blankenburg School and came to Georgetown to attend the secondary school run by the father of Sir Shridath Ramphal, Jerry Ramphal.
After leaving school he worked in various government departments, lands and mines as a surveyor; Public Works Department, now the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Lands and Mines Department, gaining experience all around the country. He saved enough from his salaries to be able to pursue legal studies in England and, as you heard, he qualified as a barrister and returned to work in Guyana.
He became a magistrate and again, as a magistrate and later as a judge, he gained more experience moving around the country and this made him familiar with the Guyanese condition, not just in the city or in the coastland but throughout the hinterland, where our magistrate courts were located. So he learned to appreciate the customs and the culture of Guyanese people countrywide. He became, only at the age of 52, the foremost candidate for consideration as president when Guyana became a Republic. In fact, as you heard, he didn’t become president until February 1970 because he was still the trial judge for some suspects involved in the Rupununi Rebellion of January 1969; so he had to complete his cases before he took up the presidency. That is responsible for the gap between February 1970 and March of the same year.
So his appointment was historic. He is not only the first Guyanese President but, as you heard, he is the first person of Chinese descent to be elected president in a non-Asian country and he was elected by the National Assembly in 1970 and re-elected in 1976. So he spent more than a decade as president, and, of course, his place was taken by the executive presidency in October 1980; but he became president at an important stage of Guyanese history. It was a period of international turmoil and national transformation but, if you ever knew him, you knew that he was a quiet and calm person with a common touch and he helped with his own character and personality to shape the identity of our new Republic amidst all that was taking place in our country and around the world. He guided Guyana at a time when there was uncertainty and he was the face of Guyana in the global community. His tenure coincided with the independence of many former colonies and he was very frequently the first prominent Guyanese to visit those colonies. One of those of course was his visit to the People’s Republic of China and there he met President Hua Guofeng and sealed the friendship between the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the People’s Republic of China. So he was the first president to have gone to the PRC.
Since then, of course, China has remained a constant friend of Guyana. China’s commitment to development is evident not only in this magnificent structure but it has been substantial in other fields: in culture, in defence, in the economy, in public education and recently the Cyril Potter College of Education was beneficiary of a grant from the PRC Embassy to enable it to re-equip its laboratories. In public health, who can forget the wonderful work that the Chinese medical brigades have been doing over the years; in public infrastructure, in public security, the donations of those splendid vehicles to the Guyana Police Force and, of course, in public telecommunications with the donation of computers, enabling us to launch our One Laptop per Teacher Programme. So China is a serious contributor to Guyana’s development. I always remember President Arthur Chung. I learned from his lips that presidents don’t fly in single engine planes and I’ve never forgotten that. Of course it was very useful when I became president myself, and my Director of Protocol knows not to offer me a single engine plane but he was the first person to tell me that in 1970. He was a very careful person.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the People’s Republic of China will continue to advance their common vision of, you heard it, increased investment, infrastructure development, international trade, information and communications technology. I would like on behalf of the Government and People of Guyana to express our deep appreciation to the Government and People of the People’s Republic of China for its sustained support to our country’s development and we look forward to strengthening the excellent relations in the years ahead.
The Arthur Chung Conference Centre now, and for generations to come, will ensure that the contributions of Arthur Chung, a Guyanese of Chinese origin, and of the People’s Republic of China will be remembered and sustained. I thank the People’s Republic of China for funding the renovation of this magnificent structure. It will remain a monument to the unbreakable bonds of history and a symbol of the friendship between our two Republics.
I thank you.