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Hong Kong

Hong Kong Flag

Region Name: The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China


Hong Kong Map


Area: 1,098 sq km (424 sq mi)
Population: 6.8419m (mid-2004)
People: Chinese 99%, 1% other
Languages: Chinese (mainly Cantonese), English
Religion: Buddhism and Taoism (majority), Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism
Currency: The Hong Kong Dollar, which is pegged to the US Dollar.
Major Political Parties: Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, Liberal Party, and Democratic Party
Government: The head of the Hong Kong SAR Government is the Chief Executive.
Head of State (President of China): Hu Jintao
Chief Executive: Donald Tsang
Chief Secretary for Administration: Rafael Hui
Financial Secretary: Mr Henry Tang


The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China (SAR) covers an area of 1,098 square kilometres (424 square miles) on the southern coast of China. It comprises Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories, and about 235 outlying islands. It has a subtropical climate with hot, wet summers and cool, dry winters. Hong Kong's harbour, strategically located on the primary Far Eastern trade routes, facilitated Hong Kong's development as one of the greatest trading ports in the Asia-Pacific Region. Hong Kong has a population of around 6.8m, 99% of whom are ethnic Chinese.


Historical Chronology of Hong Kong

* 1841: Hong Kong occupied by the British.
* 1842: Hong Kong Island ceded by China to Britain under the Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing).
* 1860: Kowloon and Stonecutters Island ceded to Britain under the First Convention of Peking (Beijing).
* 1898: New Territories leased from China for 99 years under the Second Convention of Peking (Beijing).
* 1941: Japanese occupy Hong Kong.
* 1945: Hong Kong liberated from Japanese occupation.
* 1982: Negotiations open between Britain and China on the future of Hong Kong.
* 1983: Hong Kong Dollar pegged to US Dollar.
* 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong.
* 1985: Joint Declaration enters into force and registered with the UN. First meeting of Sino-British Joint Liaison Group.
* 1990: The Basic Law laid down.
* 1997: Handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. Hong Kong becomes a Special Administrative Region of China (midnight 30 June). CH Tung appointed Chief Executive.
* 1998: Chek Lap Kok airport opened.
* 2002: Chief Executive CH Tung reappointed for a second 5-year term.
* 2005: 10 March - Chief Executive CH Tung resigns, citing reasons of ill health.
* 2005: 21 June - Donald Tsang formally appointed as Chief Executive.


The Handover

On 1 July 1997, in accordance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (Joint Declaration) signed on 19 December 1984, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty. Hong Kong then became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR (Basic Law) provide that Hong Kong's capitalist system and way of life will remain unchanged for 50 years; and that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign affairs and defence, which are the responsibility of the Chinese Government. Fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong are guaranteed by the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. The Basic Law serves as a mini-constitution for Hong Kong. It was promulgated by the National People's Congress of the PRC in 1990. It prescribes, among other matters, the relationship between the Chinese Government and the Hong Kong SAR Government, the fundamental rights and duties of the Hong Kong people and the SAR's political structure, and contains provisions on the interpretation and amendment of its Articles.

Generally since the handover, the British government has assessed that the 'One Country, Two Systems' approach enshrined in the Joint Declaration was working well. However, we have been concerned about the intervention of the central authorities regarding the pace and scope of constitutional development which seems inconsistent with the high degree of autonomy guaranteed to Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration.

Where we believe that the principles of the Joint Declaration might be undermined, we will raise our concerns with the SAR Government, or Beijing, as appropriate. During Prime Minister Tony Blair’s talks with the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on 20 May 2004 both Governments reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of the Joint Declaration and agreed to continue exchanges of view on the issue. In his latest Six Monthly Report on Hong Kong to Parliament, the Foreign Secretary concluded that the period covered by the report (July – December 2004) saw no developments which might erode further the high degree of autonomy guaranteed to Hong Kong.

The Chief Executive

The head of the Hong Kong SAR Government is the Chief Executive. On 10 March 2005 Mr Tung Chee-hwa (CH Tung) announced he had resigned as Chief Executive for reasons of ill health. In accordance with the Basic Law, the Chief Secretary, Donald Tsang, became Acting Chief Executive.

On 25 May Donald Tsang officially announced his intention to run for the post of Chief Executive and duly resigned from government. He was the only candidate to receive the required minimum number of nominations from the 796 member Election Committee in Hong Kong and as a result was appointed Chief Executive by the Central People's Government in Beijing for a two-year term on 21 June 2005.

Under the Basic Law, the ultimate aim is the election of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage. Annex I of the Basic Law states that 'if there is a need to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executives for the terms subsequent to the year 2007, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for approval'.

The Legislature (LegCo)

The Legislative Council comprises 60 members, with 30 members returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections, 30 members returned by functional constituencies representing different sectors of the community. The last LegCo elections were held on 12 September 2004. This was the third LegCo election since the handover in 1997 and had the highest proportion of directly elected legislators with 50% directly elected, up from 33.3% (20 out of 60) in 1998 and 40% (24 out of 60) in 2000.

LegCo’s main functions are enacting laws; examining and approving Government budgets, taxation and public expenditure; monitoring Government; endorsing the appointment and removal of judges of the Court of Final Appeal and the Chief Judge of the High Court and debating issues of public interest. Under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, LegCo is to be composed of local people and constituted by election with the ultimate goal of a Legislative Council elected entirely on the basis of universal suffrage.

According to the Basic Law, any changes to the method for the formation of the Legislative Council subsequent to the year 2007 'must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for the record'.

The Judiciary

Hong Kong's legal system, based on English Common Law, has remained largely unchanged since the handover. The most significant change then was the establishment of the Court of Final Appeal (which replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London as the highest appellate court in Hong Kong). The Joint Declaration and Basic Law provide that the courts will exercise judicial power independently and free from interference. Serving members of the House of Lords continue to sit as non-permanent members of the Court of Final Appeal.

The Executive Council (ExCo)

The Chief Executive is assisted by the Executive Council in making important policy decisions and subsidiary legislation. It currently comprises 14 official members (the heads of the Government Departments) and 7 non-official members.

Continuity of the public service and preservation of its political impartiality and professionalism are key factors in Hong Kong's continuing stability. The Basic Law provides that the key posts in the Civil Service must be occupied by Chinese nationals who have resided in Hong Kong for not less than 15 years. However, the Hong Kong Government may continue to employ and recruit foreign nationals.

On 1 July 2002 the Chief Executive introduced a new system for appointing top officials, termed the 'accountability system'. The top officials are now political appointees on fixed term contracts who form the former Chief Executive’s cabinet and are responsible for policy making. They are 'accountable' to the Chief Executive who can sack them for serious mistakes; and they serve for a period no longer than that of the Chief Executive who appointed them. Beneath the political appointees are permanent secretaries who are civil servants. They are responsible for the implementation of policy.

Constitutional development

The Basic Law provides for constitutional development from 2007 to give Hong Kong people a more accountable and representative Government. Specifically, it lays down the ultimate aims of the election of the Chief Executive and all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage, although there is no timetable for reaching this goal. The SAR Government confirmed in November 2003 their belief that the system for electing the Chief Executive could be changed for the election due in 2007, if there was a need to do so. The method of electing LegCo could be changed for the 2008-2012 term at the earliest.

The pressure for early democratisation increased following major demonstrations in July 2003 and on 1 January 2004. In January 2004 the Chief Executive announced the formation of a Task Force on constitutional reform to study the detailed provisions in the Basic Law and consult with the Central authorities in Beijing before taking things further.

In April 2004 the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress (NPCSC) interpreted two aspects of the Basic Law dealing with the procedures for the election methods for the CE (from 2007) and the Legislative Council (from 2008). Although the NPC interpretation did not rule out changes in 2007, it said that any change to the method of election of the CE or the Legislative Council had first to be cleared with the NPC. The NPC ruled that universal suffrage in 2007/8 would not be allowed and that the system of forming LegCo to be used in the 2004 elections could be adapted, but that the ratio of functional to directly elected seats (equal in number) must remain the same.

Former Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell issued two statements on 7 and 26 April 2004 in which he expressed our concern that the interpretation was inconsistent with Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy; and disappointment that the NPC had set limits to constitutional development in Hong Kong that were not required by the Basic Law.

On 1 July 2004, a substantial number of people again marched peacefully through the streets of Hong Kong. The single main theme of this demonstration was a call for early progress towards a more democratic and representative system of government.

These three protests seen in Hong Kong since July 2003 were the largest to have taken place on any issue since the handover.

The consultation in Hong Kong on constitutional reform continues. The Taskforce’s 4th report issued in December 2004, with the further consultation period in March 2005, after which a final report with definitive proposals would issue, to be considered by the Legislative Council. However, following the resignation of the Chief Executive in March 2005, the final report of the Taskforce has been delayed until late 2005. This form will then go before LegCo for consideration. We look forward to the Taskforce’s final report which we hope will take full account of the wishes of the people of Hong Kong.


Basic Economic Facts
GDP: HK$ 1.281 bn (2004 - current market prices)
GDP Growth: 8.1% (2004)
GDP per capita: HK$ 186,267 (2004)
Unemployment: 6.8% (2004)
Currency: The Hong Kong Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar. HK$7.8 = $1.
British exports to Hong Kong (2004 figures): £2.6bn, up 5.6% over 2003.
British imports from Hong Kong (2004): £5.7bn
Total British investment in Hong Kong: £6.2bn in 2003.

Hong Kong is the tenth largest trading economy in the world. Total exports in goods and services, including re-exports, amounted to HK 2019.1bn in 2004. Since the 1980s, many Hong Kong companies have moved their factories to cheaper locations in the Pearl River Delta (PRD), and manufacturing now makes up less than 5% of Hong Kong’s GDP. Services account for over 85% of GDP and although some lower-end operations have begun to follow their manufacturing counterparts across the border into Mainland China, financial services, tourism, logistics, retail and trade-related services continue to make up the key elements of the Hong Kong economy. Although historically important the property bubble burst during the Asian Financial Crisis and the property market is now valued at 60% of its pre-crisis high. Foreign exchange reserves are the fifth largest in the world after Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. Although fiscal reserves are falling as a result of a growing budget deficit, no external debt exists. The Hong dollar is linked to the US dollar through a currency board.

Hong Kong’s economy is currently seeing a steady rebound following the global slowdown of 2001 and the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Spring 2003. Tourism and trade are the key drivers of growth, with visitor arrivals (most of whom come from Mainland China) up 127% (year-on-year) and visible exports 18.2% in June 2004. Retail sales have also recorded positive growth since August 2003 and overall consumer prices in 2004 registered the first increase since November 1998, at 0.1%. The unemployment rate in 2004 averaged 6.8%, down from 7.9% in 2003. The property market has also begun to pick up seeing a 3.8% year-on-year increase in 2003 as a whole - the first annual increase since the bursting of the asset bubble in 1998. The economy registered strong growth of 8.1% in 2004, well above trend. The government estimates growth in 2005 to be between 4.5 and 5.5%, with medium term trend growth around 4%. The economic assistance received from Bejing has helped fuel the recovery. Much progress has been made in developing closer economic ties. Hong Kong survived the Asian economic crisis and bird flu and the bullish economic indicators in 2004 has translated into a feel-good factor. Although the government had estimated a significant fiscal shortfall in 2004, greater-than-expected revenue from land sale auctions, coupled with an oversubscribed bond issue, resulted in the first fiscal surplus since 1999-2000, at HK$12bn, just under 1% of GDP. Government projections suggest that they can deliver an annual consolidated surplus by 2006-7. Also, developing closer economic ties with China is a long-term process and will not alone guarantee Hong Kong's future prosperity.


Britain’s signature of the Joint Declaration provides the basis for Britain’s continuing interest in, and commitment to, the special arrangements for the protection of Hong Kong’s way of life. The Foreign Secretary regularly reports to Parliament on the implementation of the Joint Declaration. The latest such report (Jan - June 2005) was published in July 2005 (Parliamentary reference: Cm 6642)

There are about 3.6m British passport-holders in Hong Kong. The majority (3.44m) are British Nationals (Overseas) (BN(O)s). This form of British nationality accords visa-free access to the UK for short visits but no right of abode in the UK. BN(O) passport holders enjoy British consular protection when in third countries (and, in the case of non-Chinese BN(O) passport holders, in Hong Kong and Mainland China).

The UK and Hong Kong authorities have developed close co-operation on law enforcement issues, including customs, drugs and illegal immigration. There are also close links between the British and Hong Kong legal communities.


The incidence of violent crime is very low but pickpocketing and other street crime can occur in urban areas. You should take extra care of passports, credit cards and money in crowded areas. You should be careful of your belongings when checking out of hotels. There have also been some isolated incidents of robberies in Hong Kong’s Country Parks in the last year. These incidents have been reduced following a crime prevention operation by the Hong Kong Police. Nevertheless, those hiking in Hong Kong’s Country Parks should stick to marked trails and avoid carrying credit/bank cards or large amounts of cash.

Political Situation

Hong Kong is a stable society underpinned by the rule of law. Large-scale demonstrations are becoming more frequent in Hong Kong, but despite the substantial numbers these sometimes draw, they have been conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner. However, you should take sensible precautions against petty crime if in the vicinity.


Hong Kong law is based mainly on UK law. There are on the spot fines for littering and spitting. There is zero tolerance for ticketless travel the Mass Transit Railway (MTR).

You should not become involved with illicit drugs of any kind. Possession of these drugs can lead to imprisonment. As a general precaution don’t take photographs of military installations in Hong Kong. Since the 1997 handover, the defence of Hong Kong has been the responsibility of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). All previous British military barracks now belong to the PLA.


Typhoons very occasionally hit Hong Kong between the months of April to October and may cause flooding and landslides. Warning is given in advance. Public offices shut down when the "Typhoon 8" signal is hoisted. You are advised to remain indoors.



The vast majority of retail outlets are fair and honest. However, visitors should be aware that a number of incidents have occurred in the Nathan Road/Tsim Tsa Tsui area where shoppers have been overcharged for older models of goods. Visitors should shop around for prices before purchase as claims for compensation after goods have been paid will have to be referred to the consumer council website. The process may take some time.

Last reviewed on 15 July 2005


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