Hong Kong - Tips

Hong Kong Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
July 2007

Background Note: Hong Kong

Aerial view of Hong Kong and its
harbor, May 29, 2007. [© AP Images]

Flag of Hong Kong is red with a stylized, white, five-petal bauhinia flower
in the center.


Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Area: 1,104 sq. km.; Hong Kong comprises Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the New
Territories, and numerous small islands.
Terrain: Hilly to mountainous, with steep slopes and natural harbor.
Climate: Tropical monsoon. Cool and humid in winter, hot and rainy from
spring through summer, warm and sunny in fall.

Population (2006): 6.9 million.
Population growth rate (2006): 0.9%.
Ethnic groups: Chinese 95%; other 5%.
Religions: About 43% participate in some form of religious practice.
Christian, about 9.6%.
Languages: Cantonese (a dialect of Chinese) and English are official.
Education: Literacy--92% (95% male, 88% female).
Health (2006): Infant mortality rate--1.8/1,000. Life expectancy--82.6 yrs.
(overall); 79.5 yrs. males, 85.6 yrs. females.
Work force (2006): 3.6 million. Wholesale, retail, and import/export trades
and restaurants and hotels--28.9%; finance, insurance, real estate, and
business services--13.3%; manufacturing--4.4%.

Type: Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, with its own constitution
(the Basic Law).
Branches: Executive--Administration: Chief Executive selected in March 2007;
Executive Council, serving in an advisory role for the Chief Executive.
Legislative--Legislative Council elected in September 2004. Judicial--Court
of Final Appeal is highest court, other lower courts.
Subdivisions: Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories.
Suffrage: Permanent residents, at 18 years or over, living in Hong Kong for
the past 7 years are eligible to vote.

Economy (2006)
GDP (2006): $188.8 billion.
GDP real growth rate (2006): 6.8%.
Per capita GDP (2006): $27,527.
Natural resources: Outstanding deepwater harbor.
Industry: Types--textiles, clothing, electronics, plastics, toys, watches,
Trade: Exports--$315.5 billion: clothing, electronics, textiles, watches and
clocks, office machinery. Imports--$333.3 billion: consumer goods, raw
materials and semi-manufactures, capital goods, foodstuffs, fuels.

Hong Kong's population has increased steadily over the past decade, reaching
about 6.9 million by 2006. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated
areas in the world, with an overall density of some 6,250 people per square
kilometer. Cantonese, the official Chinese language in Hong Kong, is spoken
by most of the population. English, also an official language, is widely
understood. It is spoken by more than one-third of the population. Every
major religion is practiced freely in Hong Kong. All children are required by
law to be in full-time education between the ages of 6 and 15. Preschool
education for most children begins at age 3. Primary school begins normally
at the age of 6 and lasts for 6 years. At about age 12, children progress to
a 3-year course of junior secondary education. Most stay on for a 2-year
senior secondary course, while others join full-time vocational training.
More than 90% of children complete upper secondary education or equivalent
vocational education.

According to archaeological studies initiated in the 1920s, human activity on
Hong Kong dates back over five millennia. Excavated neolithic artifacts
suggest an influence from northern Chinese stone-age cultures. The territory
was settled by Han Chinese during the seventh century, A.D., evidenced by the
discovery of an ancient tomb at Lei Cheung Uk in Kowloon. The first major
migration from northern China to Hong Kong occurred during the Sung Dynasty
(960-1279). The British East India Company made the first successful sea
venture to China in 1699, and Hong Kong's trade with British merchants
developed rapidly soon after. After the Chinese defeat in the First Opium War
(1839-42), Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of
Nanking. Britain was granted a perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula under
the 1860 Convention of Beijing, which formally ended hostilities in the
Second Opium War (1856-58). The United Kingdom, concerned that Hong Kong
could not be defended unless surrounding areas also were under British
control, executed a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898,
significantly expanding the size of the Hong Kong colony.

In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, Hong Kong developed as a
warehousing and distribution center for U.K. trade with southern China. After
the end of World War II and the communist takeover of Mainland China in 1949,
hundreds of thousands of people fled from China to Hong Kong. Hong Kong
became an economic success and a manufacturing, commercial, finance, and
tourism center. High life expectancy, literacy, per capita income, and other
socioeconomic measures attest to Hong Kong's achievements over the last five

On July 1, 1997, China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong,
ending more than 150 years of British colonial rule. Hong Kong is a Special
Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China with a degree of
autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs. According to the
Sino-British Joint Declaration (1984) and the Basic Law, Hong Kong will
retain its political, economic, and judicial systems and unique way of life
for 50 years after reversion and will continue to participate in
international agreements and organizations under the name, "Hong Kong,

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is headed by Chief
Executive Donald Tsang, who first took office in 2005 and whose current term
ends in 2012. The Election Committee that votes on the Chief Executive is
made up of approximately 800 Hong Kong residents from four constituency
groups: commercial, industrial, and financial interests; professionals;
labor, social services, and religious interests; and the legislature, the
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and the P.R.C. National
People's Congress.

In December 2006, supporters of pro-democracy Civic Party legislator Alan
Leong won 134 seats in the Election Committee, enabling Leong to challenge
incumbent Chief Executive Tsang's bid for a new five-year term in 2007.
Tsang, with solid support from the pro-government and pro-business sectors,
won the March 25, 2007 Election Committee vote with 649 of the 795 votes.
Leong garnered 123 votes.

In July 2002, the Hong Kong Government implemented the Principal Officials
Accountability System, which was designed to make the government more
responsive to public concerns. Eleven political appointees, directly
responsible to the Chief Executive, were added to run the 11 policy bureaus.
Three other senior civil service positions--the Chief Secretary, Financial
Secretary, and Justice Secretary--also were converted to political

While Hong Kong remains a free and open society where human rights are
respected, courts are independent, and there is well-established respect for
the rule of law, residents are limited in their ability to change their
government, and the legislature is limited in its power to affect government
policies. The September 12, 2004 Legislative Council elections were seen as
generally free, open, and widely contested, although Hong Kong groups have
alleged voter intimidation, manipulation, or pressure in connection with

In April 2004, the P.R.C. National People's Congress Standing Committee
issued a decision on the scope and pace of constitutional reform, which laid
out certain conditions for the process of democratic development. This
decision precluded major changes to the electoral systems for the 2007 Chief
Executive and 2008 Legislative Council elections, with the result that no
significant reform of the electoral systems can be realized until the Chief
Executive and Legislative Council elections scheduled for 2012.

In December 2005 the Legislative Council rejected a Hong Kong
Government-proposed package of incremental reforms to the mechanisms for
choosing the Chief Executive in 2007 and forming the Legislative Council in
2008. In mid-2007, the Hong Kong Government's Commission on Strategic
Development is scheduled to issue new proposals to reform the Chief Executive
and Legislative Council electoral mechanisms, with the "ultimate aim" of
universal suffrage as prescribed by the Basic Law.

Principal Government Officials
Chief Executive--Donald Tsang
Chief Secretary for Administration--Henry Tang
Financial Secretary--John Tsang
Secretary for Justice--Wong Yan Lung, SC
Secretary for Education--Michael Suen
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development--Frederick Ma
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs--Stephen Lam
Secretary for Security--Ambrose Lee
Secretary for Food and Health--York Chow
Secretary for the Civil Service--Denise Yue
Secretary for Home Affairs--Tsang Tak-sing
Secretary for Labour and Welfare--Matthew Cheung
Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury--K C Chan
Secretary for Development--Carrie Lam
Secretary for the Environment--Edward Yau
Secretary for Transport and Housing--Eva Cheng

Hong Kong is one of the world's most open and dynamic economies. Hong Kong
per capita GDP is comparable to other developed countries. Real GDP expanded
by 6.8% in 2006 year-on-year, driven by thriving exports, vibrant inbound
tourism and strong consumer spending. Severe acute respiratory syndrome
(SARS) caused the Hong Kong economy to shrink during the first half of 2003,
and property prices had fallen 66% from their late 1997 peak, but have since
rebounded by about 59% from that lower base. The unemployment rate declined
to 4.3% in December 2006-February 2007, the lowest level since mid-1998. The
surplus for fiscal year 2006-07 was $7.1 billion or 3.7% of GDP, attributed
to the robust economy, increased corporate profits and salaries, the buoyant
stock market, and a stable property market.

Hong Kong enjoys a number of economic strengths, including accumulated public
and private wealth from decades of unprecedented growth, a sound banking
system, virtually no public debt, a strong legal system, and an able and
rigorously enforced anti-corruption regime. The need for economic
restructuring poses difficult challenges and choices for the government. Hong
Kong is endeavoring to improve its attractiveness as a commercial and trading
center, especially after China's entry into the World Trade Organization
(WTO), and continues to refine its financial architecture. The government is
deepening its economic interaction with the Pearl River Delta in an effort to
maintain Hong Kong's position as a gateway to China. These efforts include
the conclusion of a free trade agreement with China, the Closer Economic
Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), which applies zero tariffs to all Hong
Kong-origin goods and preferential treatment in 27 service sectors. Hong
Kong, along with the Macau SAR, is also participating in a new pan-Pearl
River Delta trade block with nine Chinese provinces, which aims to lower
trade barriers among members, standardize regulations, and improve
infrastructure. U.S. companies have a generally favorable view of Hong Kong's
business environment, including its legal system and the free flow of
information, low taxation, and infrastructure. The American Chamber of
Commerce's annual business confidence survey, released in December 2006,
showed 100% of respondents had a "good" or "satisfactory" outlook for 2007.
Survey results indicated a positive economic outlook through 2009.

On the international front, Hong Kong is a separate and active member of the
WTO and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, where it is an
articulate and effective champion of free markets and the reduction of trade
barriers. Hong Kong residents across the political spectrum supported China's
accession to the WTO, believing this would open new opportunities on the
mainland for local firms and stabilize relations between Hong Kong's two most
important trade and investment partners, the United States and China.

Hong Kong's foreign relations and defense are the responsibility of China.
Hong Kong is an independent customs territory and economic entity separate
from the rest of China and is able to enter into international agreements on
its own behalf in commercial and economic matters. Hong Kong, independently
of China, participates as a full member of numerous international economic
organizations including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), and the Financial Action Task Force

U.S. policy toward Hong Kong, grounded in a determination to promote Hong
Kong's prosperity, autonomy, and way of life, is stated in the U.S.-Hong Kong
Policy Act of 1992. The United States maintains substantial economic and
political interests in Hong Kong. The United States supports Hong Kong's
autonomy by concluding and implementing bilateral agreements; promoting trade
and investment; arranging high-level visits; broadening law enforcement
cooperation; bolstering educational, academic, and cultural links; and
supporting the large community of U.S. citizens and visitors.

Hong Kong is an active member of the global coalition against terrorism. Hong
Kong has joined the Container Security Initiative and remains an important
partner with regard to eliminating funding for terrorist networks and
combating money laundering. Hong Kong has passed legislation designed to
bring Hong Kong into compliance with applicable UN anti-terror resolutions
and Financial Action Task Force recommendations.

The United States has substantial economic and social ties with Hong Kong.
There are some 1,100 U.S. firms, including 889 regional operations (295
regional headquarters and 594 regional offices), and about 54,000 American
residents in Hong Kong. According to U.S. Government statistics, U.S. exports
to Hong Kong totaled $17.8 billion in 2006. U.S. direct investment in Hong
Kong at the end of 2005 totaled about $37.9 billion, making the United States
one of Hong Kong's largest investors, along with China, Japan, and the

The United States and Hong Kong signed a civil aviation agreement in October
2002, which significantly liberalized the aviation market. Hong Kong enjoys a
high degree of autonomy as a separate customs territory, with no changes to
borders, staffing, or technology export controls since the 1997 handover.
Intellectual property rights (IPR) protection has improved substantially in
recent years and the introduction of effective new legislation to control
illicit production and improved enforcement has now made Hong Kong a regional
model for effective IPR protection. The Office of the U.S. Trade
Representative and other U.S. agencies now regularly cite Hong Kong as an
example for others.

The Hong Kong Government maintains three Economic and Trade Offices in the
United States. Addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites for these offices
are listed below:

1520 - 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 331-8947
Fax: (202) 331-8958
Web Site: http://www.hketowashington.gov.hk/dc/index.htm

115 East 54th Street
New York, NY 10022
Tel: (212) 752-3320
Fax: (212) 752-3395
Web Site: http://www.hketony.gov.hk/ny/index.htm

130 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
Tel: (415) 835-9300
Fax: (415) 421-0646
Web Site: http://www.hketosf.gov.hk/sf/index.htm

Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General--James B. Cunningham
Deputy Principal Officer--Chris Marut

The U.S. Consulate General is located at 26 Garden Road, Hong Kong. Tel:
(852) 2523-9011 (general). Fax: (852) 2845-1598 (general); (852) 2147-5790
(consular); (852) 2845-9800 (commercial).

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://
www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/bgn/ for all Background notes
To change your subscription, go to http://www.state.gov/misc/echannels/66822.htm Hong Kong


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