Sarah Palin, in what was billed as her first speech overseas, spoke on Wednesday to Asian bankers, investors and fund managers.
A number of people who heard the speech in a packed a hotel ballroom, which was closed to the media, said Mrs. Palin spoke from notes for 90 minutes and that she was articulate, well-prepared and even compelling.
“The speech was wide-ranging, very balanced, and she beat all expectations,” said Doug A. Coulter, head of private equity in the Asia-Pacific region for LGT Capital Partners.
“She didn’t sound at all like a far-right-wing conservative. She seemed to be positioning herself as a libertarian or a small-c conservative,” he said, adding that she mentioned both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. “She brought up both those names.”
Mrs. Palin said she was speaking as “someone from Main Street U.S.A.,” and she touched on her concerns about oversized federal bailouts and the unsustainable American government deficit. She did not repeat her attack from last month that the Obama administration’s health care proposals would create a “death panel” that would allow federal bureaucrats to decide who is “worthy of health care.”
Cameron Sinclair, another speaker at the event, said Mrs. Palin emphasized the need for a grassroots rebirth of the Republican Party driven by party leaders outside Washington.
A number of attendees thought Mrs. Palin, the former vice presidential candidate, was using the speech to begin to broaden her foreign policy credentials before making a run for the presidency in 2012.
“She’s definitely a serious future presidential candidate, and I understand why she plays so well in middle America,” said Mr. Coulter, a Canadian.
Mrs. Palin was faulted during the campaign last year for her lack of foreign policy experience and expertise. As the governor of Alaska, she said in her own defense, she had a unique insight because “you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska” — a remark that was widely lampooned.
Accompanying Mrs. Palin to Hong Kong was Randy Scheunemann, the former foreign policy adviser to John McCain, who lost the 2008 election to President Obama.
Mrs. Palin did not take questions from the media after the speech, and there was a high degree of security and secrecy around the event. Only invited guests and a handful of employees from CLSA, the brokerage house that sponsored the event, were allowed inside the ballroom.
A CLSA spokeswoman declined to confirm a rumor that Mrs. Palin was paid $300,000 for her Hong Kong appearance.
When she resigned as governor in July, Mrs. Palin cited numerous reasons for stepping down, including more than $500,000 in legal fees that she and her husband, Todd, incurred because of 15 ethics complaints filed against her during her two and a half years in office.
Mr. Coulter said CLSA has a history of inviting keynote speakers who are “newsworthy and potentially controversial.” Other previous speakers at the conference have included Al Gore, Alan Greenspan, Bono and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Mrs. Palin’s speech took place at the Grand Hyatt on the Victoria Harbor waterfront and amid the soaring towers of corporate giants like AIG, HSBC and the Bank of China. Some attendees saw Hong Kong as an auspicious place for her first major international appearance.
Melvin Goodé, a regional marketing consultant, thought Mrs. Palin chose Hong Kong because, he said, it was “a place where things happen and where freedom can be expanded upon.”
“It’s not Beijing or Shanghai,” said Mr. Goodé . “She also mentioned Tibet, Burma and North Korea in the same breath as places where China should be more sensitive and careful about how people are treated. She said it on a human-rights level.”
Mr. Goodé, an African-American who said he did some campaign polling for President Obama, said Mrs. Palin mentioned President Obama three times on Wednesday.
“And there was nothing derogatory in it, no sleight of hand, and believe me, I was listening for that,” he said, adding that Mrs. Palin referred to Mr. Obama as “our president,” with the emphasis on “our.”
Mr. Goodé, a New Yorker who said he would never vote for Mrs. Palin, said she acquitted herself well.
“They really prepared her well,” he said. “She was articulate and she held her own. I give her credit. They’ve tried to categorize her as not being bright. She’s bright.”