The government's approach to the right of abode problem is
characterised by dishonest rabble-rousing worthy of the late
Dr Goebbels. For disinformation and manipulation of facts it
ranks with the 1987 Survey which purported to show that
Hongkong people did not want directly elected legislators.
Then the interests of an unaccountable bureaucracy was at
pains to divert pressures for representative government. Now
the same bureaucrats are trying to inflame public opinion to
counter the judicial threat to their rule by fiat. After all,
if the Court of Final Appeal can override their diktats, it
may only be a matter of time before other judges are
questioning their right to conclude untransparent deals with
crony property developers who subsequently reward them with
post retirement sinecures.
The figure of 1.7 million potential migrants is backed by
barely a shred of reliable evidence or account of the
methodology used in the so-called assessment, which gives
numbers so far in excess of earlier estimates as to be
incredible. Let us apply a little common sense to the figure
of 520,000 first generation mainland illegitimate offspring of
HK residents. This number and the conseqequent 645,000 second
generation is the root of the alarm, accounting for two thirds
of the 1.7 million.
This figure is equal to ten years worth of all births in Hong
Kong - 53,000 in 1998. Assuming that in most cases the
Hongkong resident were the father, this would mean that almost
one in four of Hongkong's 2.3 million Chinese adult males
would have sired an illegitimate offspring on the mainland.
That may be a credible figure for Executive and Legislative
councillors rich enough to support children as well as stables
of mistresses and concubines across the border, but otherwise
strains credibility as far as the average wage Hongkonger is
It is even more remakable given the stigma of illegitimacy and
the tight social control which existed till quite recently on
the mainland. It flies in the face too both of the one child
policy on the mainland, not to mention the very low fertility
rate of Hongkong people in general.
Yet this becomes the basis for the scare story that 690,000
will arrive in the first three years, requiring public
housing, schools, hospitals and unemployment welfare benefits.
(Though even this government does not suggest the cost would
be any more than the HK$120 billion spent in a few days last
year propping up the stockmarket).
Scare-mongering also ignores the fact that Hong Kong has never
had control over either the number or identity of those
arriving from the mainland. Ever since the early 80s when the
government ended the "touch base" policy of accepting refugees
from the mainland who got to the urban area undetected, China
controlled entry both one and two way permits. The number of
one way permits has been stable for the past four years, but
doubtless the SAR government, like its colonial predecessor,
would accede to any change the mainland would like to make in
the total number.
The scare about a suden influx makes so sense unless Beijing
intends to change its policy on letting mainlanders move to
the SAR. It is hypocrisy for the Hongkong government to make
an issue of rights to live in Hongkong when it has never made
the slightest effort to gain control of exit from the
mainland. Nor has it ever disputed the right of Beijing to
issue one way permits, regardless of whether recipients had
family in Hongkong.
Its vicious and dishonest posturing is simply a crude attack
on the Court of Final Appeal.
But assume for a moment that the government figures are
roughly right and that China is about to change its exit
policy to meet the judgements of the SAR court. Assume that a
large minority of Hongkong families have mainland offspring.
Do they not have a responsibility to them? Should they not
want to welcome them to Hongkong to enjoy the higher standards
of living and prospects here? Should they not help them with
housing and finding jobs? Where are filial loyalties and
family ties? Will we bar returnees from Canada, holding non-
Chinese passports, if their numbers are inconvenient? What
will we say if our Green Card holders are suddenly stripped,
bu bureaucratic fiat, of their rights to live in the US?
The government's rabble rousing has also meant it has thrown
away the opportunity for some reasoned discussion about what
sort of immigration policy Hongkong ought to have. Indeed,
instead of hysteria over "invasion" a far sighted government
would be paying some attention to Hongkong's otherwise
appalling demographics. But for mainland arrivals, Hongkong
would be fast headed for geriatric status. It already has by
far the oldest population in Asia outside Japan and last year
was almost at the bottom of the world fertility league -- a
total fertility rate of just 1.1, even lower than Germany and
only slightly better than Russia.
Even with mainland migration, the number of primary school
pupils has fallen by 15% -- or 75,000 over the past decade. So
much for migrant "threat" to the school system. The number of
marriages was only 37,000 last yeara against 45,000 a deacde
ago. New household formation has been gradually dropping for
years -- a fact only disguised by the huge drop in housing
construction in the 90s compared with the 80s as a result of
government/developer self interest in choking supply to push
In short, Hongkong badly needs young blood if the economy is
not to stall, and today's middle aged cohorts are not to face
a poverty stricken old age with fewer and fewer working people
to support a growing army of the old.
But to discuss demographics would be to admit that Hongkong
has little control over events. That is not because of the
Court of Final Appeal. It is because its government has no
coherent view of the future which could reconcile the SAR's
economic needs with China's exit policies and the Court's
verdict on the Basic Law. Abode scaremongering sums up the
moral as well as intellectual bankrupcty of this