Hongkong abode scandal

by Philip Bowring

Hongkong: The supposed crisis over the "threat" of 1.67
million mainlanders arriving in this territory of 6.7 million
has been contrived by the government for political purposes.

In essence it is an attempt to drum up popular sentiment
against a decision of the Court of Final Appeal which over-
rode the government in defining who, according to China's
Basic Law on Hongkong governance, is entitled to abode in the
SAR. The Court said all chidren of permanent residents were
entitled to live here. In its pique at the Court's rejection
of rule by fiat, the administration is creating a "crisis" and
turning to Beijing for a "solution". Whatever happens next it
will have undermined Hongkong autonomous status.

To start with, the 1.67 million is an extraordinary figure
which is based on extrapolations from bizarre and imcomplete
sampling methods widely believed designed to maximise the
numbers. No less than two thirds of the total are supposedly
first and second generation illegitimate children on the
mainland. According to the government claims, there are a
staggering 530,000 illegitimate first generation offspring of
Hongkong residents. This, says the government, is three times
the 172,000 legitimate mainland children of Hongkong

The number of supposed illegitimate offspring is ten times the
current number of annual births in Hongkong, and implies that
almost one in four Hongkong Chinese adult males has an
illegitimate mainland child. The survey also suggests that 70%
are over the age of twenty, meaning they would have been born
out of wedlock in the pre-liberalisation China when social
control was very tight. That era was followed by the one child
policy, which strongly discouraged reproduction.

The numbers fly in the face of common sense as well as
reasonable statistical methodology. But they have formed the
basis of lurid and further exaggerated claims about resulting
unemployment, housing, education and welfare costs. As a
result, pro-government legislators have taken to demanding
that the Court whould be persuaded to revise its verdict. And
the opposition Democratic Party wants Beijing to amend the
Basic Law to ward off the "threat".  

Largely forgotten in all this panic talk is that China has for
years controlled the actual numbers entering Hongkong from the
mainland on so-called One Way permits which allow holders to
stay in Hongkong indefinitely. This is currently around 54,000
a year and in practice around half are children of residents.
The Hongkong court decision is about rights to live in
Hongkong, not about rights to leave the mainland. So in
practice the ruling only effects those already in Hongkong or
who subsequently manage to get there without a One Way permit.
Hongkong entry rights and mainland exit rights are different
issues, and need to be kept so under the One Country Two
Systems formula.

The scaremongering about mainlanders sounds particularly
bizarre from a government which is forever preaching Chinese
patriotism and family values and the need to strengthen
mainland ties. It seems strange too for Hongkongers to be
reacting to deprive their own children of  Court-decreed
rights to join them in the SAR and enjoy its higher living
standards. If it were true, rather than a product of official
propaganda, it would indicate a remarkably selfish community.

As a British colony Hongkong absorbed huge increases in
population --mostly of penniless refugees -- during waves of
exodus from China in the 60s and 70s. They created employment
and helped build its prosperity. But as an SAR of China is it
now so reluctant even to allow in its own immediate offspring?

Even were migration to rise to, say, 250,000 a year over the
next five years, it would be no more than double the average
net migration of the past five years, and small in percentage
terms compared to earlier influxes.

Hongkong anyway needs younger blood. It has one of the lowest
fertility rates in the world -- far lower even than the EU
average. It already has the oldest population in Asia outside
Japan and will continue to age rapidly. It also depends
heavily on short term migrant labour (much of it illegal) to
do many dirty and lower paid jobs in construction, domestic
help, etc. This labour comes from Bangladesh and the
Philippines, as well as from the mainland.

The government cares neither for facts or policy which would
reconcile the Court's verdict with China's exit policy, family
values and Hongkong's need for migrants. This is a crisis. But
not one about migration rights. It is a crisis of the rule of
law, of One Country Two Systems and the integrity of the Court
of Final Appeal.





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