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Hong Kong

Recently, I visited Hong Kong and China for the first time.  Traveling to Hong Kong was a lifelong dream for me, as I have long admired the economic freedom that it possesses.  But how would the real Hong Kong appear to me, as opposed to the theoretical place that topped the Economic Freedom lists?  And would Hong Kong be significantly changed, given the 20 years it has been under Chinese control?

I thought the real Hong Kong was incredible.  This city of skyscrapers was absolutely beautiful, with a skyline that rivals and perhaps surpasses any city in the world.  Hong Kong does not have any significant natural resources – it was initially mainly an island adjacent to mainland China – but its economic freedom has led it to be one of the richer places in the world, with a per capita income higher than the U.S.

As compared to China, Hong Kong seems to be a politically freer place.  There is much better access to western newspapers and websites are not blocked.  Hong Kong also shows a distinct British influence in its culture, including the food.

The incredible density of Hong Kong has a significant influence on the city.  To note just one aspect of it, on Sunday when most of the workers, including the domestic workers, have off, the people congregate in incredible numbers not merely in the parks, but underneath the sides of skyscrapers and other buildings that provide shade.  I have never seen anything like it.

When China took back Hong Kong in 1997, I was worried about the possible decline of its economic freedom.  But nearly 20 years later, it turns out I should have been more worried about the U.S. than Hong Kong.  According to the Heritage Foundation’s rankings, Hong Kong was #1 in the world in 1996 and the U.S. was #7.  In 2016, Hong Kong remained #1 but the U.S. had fallen to #11.

Reader Discussion

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on July 12, 2016 at 09:16:51 am

You overlook Hong Kong's great debt to its foil and antithesis, mainland Chinese Communisim, without which it never could have flourished as a free trade zone arbitraging Chinese labor.

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Mark Baughan
on July 12, 2016 at 09:50:21 am

Mike, I'm glad you got to Hong Kong, which remains an amazing place, even with new political pressures by Beijing. Imagine what a 16% flat tax, small government and an effective rule of law could do for the U.S.!

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Gordon Crovitz
on July 12, 2016 at 11:00:42 am

Prior to the handover, Britain negotiated a further 50 year free-market economy and common law Joint Declaration with China, that would see the British-established free-market economy of Hong Kong retained. The real test will be to go to Hong Kong in 30+ years time, after this Declaration is likely to have been lifted or inherently altered.

While the economic centre is on Hong Kong island, it is also made up of several other major islands, and the peninsular: Kowloon and the New Territories. From your comment, it appears you primarily spent your time on Hong Kong Island. There are distinct "tones" if you travel around the different areas, especially as you move away from the CBD of Hong Kong island. The British attributes tend to diminish the further north you travel, although they don't completely disappear.

My point is that Hong Kong island itself, is probably the most Euro-centric zone, apart from tourists across the Harbour.

Culturally and socially Hong Kong is conservative, so it lacks the modern afflictions of the West - at least nowhere near the same extent. Locals are proudly distinct (Cantonese speaking) from the mainland, and do march vociferously in defence of democracy when China is thought to be meddling.

When I visit the in-laws there, I am always surprised by the capital works that are constantly changing the skyline, and the incremental cultural shift back to China. The test will be if Hong Kong can retain some of those great British attributes that truly make it an East meets West economic hub.

As for the social congregating of locals in the lee of buildings, that is primarily due to the match-box lifestyle. Locals treat their units as hotels: they're basically out all day until they need to sleep. Hence the density you see a pied.

I hope you took the time to enjoy the place.

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Matt Patchon
on July 12, 2016 at 15:25:45 pm

Matt: I know about the other areas. I actually stayed in Kowloon. I agree with your point about the tones.

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Mike Rappaport
on July 13, 2016 at 11:34:13 am

"Worried more about the U S than Hong Kong", boy is that a mouthful,
Gee I wonder about the continued slide, couldn't have something to do with the last eight years?, #11 going for twelve it seems.

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john trainor

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.