Hong Kong Economic Journal
21st March 2013
<New Flood of Emigrants in Hong Kong after 97 Holds Back HK’s Transformation Yet Benefits the China’s Assimilation>
Population and social resources distribution go hand in hand, and is one of the deeply rooted conflicts in Hong Kong. Given low birth rate and aging population, attracting new emigrants and anchor babies have almost become the only two solutions to revive the population of Hong Kong.
However, the so-called emigrants are mainly Mainland China Chinese who hold one-way permits (i.e. China-exit permits). Statistics provided by the Security Bureau show that since the handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty in 1997 to-date, a total of 762,000 Mainland China Chinese have emigrated to Hong Kong by obtaining China-exit permits. Currently Hong Kong has a population of 7.174 million, that means new emigrants from China so far already accounted for over 10% of Hong Kong’s total population. Amongst all these new emigrants from China, around 50% are in Hong Kong to reunite with their spouse, 50% are to reunite with their parents, whilst a small portion is to reunite with their children. Overall, this might not contribute to the local labour market nor the economic transformation. In fact,there are public opinions about changing the current one-way permits approval procedure. Looking at the statistics, the 150 one-way permit quota per day is not fully utilised, but CY Leung (Hong Kong’s Chief Executive) said there is “no room for adjustment” for the quota, which further intensify the population issue in Hong Kong. Given that there will continue be one-way permit holders emigrating to Hong Kong, we can expect these “new blood” of Hong Kong to be the core element to speed up the China-Hong Kong assimilation.
I have to emphasis that I do not discriminate new emigrants nor do I doubt the agenda and motives of the one-way permit holders. I merely want to illustrate the situation with numbers and to diagnose the population problem in Hong Kong, to systemically paint the full picture.
In response to the question raised by Sin Chung Kai, lawmaker from the Democratic Party, John Li Ka-Chiu, Under Secretary for Security, revealed some important figures at the Legislative Council. From the handover of sovereignty to end of 2012, a total of 762,044 individuals emigrated to Hong Kong. Amongst these new emigrants, 50% of them are here to reunite with their spouse, the other half to reunite with their parents, and a small numbers to reunite with their children. Assuming that these people are all still living Hong Kong, based on the total population of Hong Kong by end of 2012 was 7.174 million, the total emigrants who came to Hong Kong from China via one-way permits account for 10.62% of Hong Kong’s total population.
As we all know, Hong Kong has been long suffering from population growth in recent years. The reasons are closely related to the low birth rate and aging problem in Hong Kong, which create a deadlock of Hong Kong’s population growth. How much benefits will these new emigrants bring to reviving Hong Kong’s population?
Looking at the information, one-way permit holders amounted to a large proportion of the local total population growth (chart 1). In the past 10 years, the proportion is between 62.3% and 129.6%. In the past two years, the proportion maintains at over 80%. This shows that without these new emigrants, the local population growth could well be zero.
The real issue is, although these new one-way permit emigrants boosts the local population, they do not necessarily contribute to the structural population.
In age structure of population, there’s a phrase called demographic dividend. When a population structure reaches the demographic dividend stage, it means that when the birth rate rapidly drops, dependence burden of children (age 15 or below) and elderly (age 65 or above) is relatively low whilst total labour force amongst the total population therefore increases, which construct a relatively higher proportion of labour force in the total population. It is a golden period for economic development. Demographic dividend stage is when dependence burden proportion is below 50%, when the proportion goes above 60% it is called demographic liabilities.
As I go through the population data from 2001 to today, I found out that Hong Kong has always been at the edge of demographic liabilities between 2001 and 2007. Although from 2008 to 2012, Hong Kong has been in the demographic dividend stage, dependence burden fell to around 48% and just below the threshold of 50% (chart 2). One important fact to point out is that this dividend stage appeared after the Census and Statistics Department restructured its statistics method which divided the the age group of “60 or above” category into two: 60-64 and 65-or-above, and counting age 60-64 as part of the labour force – this is the reason for the drop of dependence burden ratio. In other words, one-way permits has not contributed to the local labour force.
In fact, the Economic Analysis department under the Financial Secretary Office could have all the information as soon as 2007. In the “2007 Half-Yearly Economic Report”, a feature study on new emigrants from mainland China was done. The study revealed that 54% of the new emigrants from mainland China who have been living in Hong Kong for less than 7 years do not participate in any economic activities. The group’s labour force participation rate is far below the overall rate, and lower than non-mainland China new emigrants. For those who participate in economic activities amongst the mainland China new emigrants, their education level and work related skills level are relatively lower, and as much as 82% of them could only participate in low skilled work.
According to Dr. Chung Kim-Wah, Director of Operation at the Social Policy Studies of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, he is not surprised by statistics about one-way permit holders who’ve emigrated to Hong Kong. He said, “A 150 daily quota unavoidably creates inward population migration. Emigrants focuses on two major demands: increase population quantity and increase population quality. Hong Kong has no need for the former, but the latter is not not up to our choice. The fact is, the local population growth is purely based on humanity reason.”
He further analysed that because these new emigrants (from Mainland China) in general possess lower skills hence can only participant in lower skill work, “in a way is slowing down Hong Kong’s economic transformation. Having more people and having more brilliant people? You can’t win on all aspects”. He also emphasised that new emigrants do not necessarily bring upon heavy social burden, “based on the social security statistics, there isn’t a great proportion (of new emigrants claiming it). The fact is, however, Hong Kong has changed its policy in 2004, meaning many new emigrants have got no support from anywhere (meaning not qualified for any social benefits). On the contrary, I’ve seen many old-man-young-wife cases whereby the newly emigrated wife has to look after an old Hong Kong man and a young child – the old man does not need to go to an elderly home, it in a way supports the whole society, and somehow contribute to Hong Kong (on an overall scale).” In terms of changing the current one-way permit system, Chung said “(we) can’t even solve the formula powder problem, there is certainly no hope in resolving the one-way permit (issue)”.
One-way permit new emigrants may not benefit Hong Kong’s population structure, but the changes they bring to the Hong Kong society are gradually becoming evident. It resembles the colonisation measures applied to some ethnic minority regions, for example Tibet! China has been long criticised for implementing “sinicizing measures” in Tibet, encouraging Han Chinese to emigrate to Tibet, a variation of “maintaining stability”. Some familiar with Tibet situation said, Tibet currently has a population of 2.5 million, but when the New China (PRC) was established, Lhasa’s population was just around 30,000. Once a point a time, the emigrants was approximately 3,000 per day, which as made Lhasa a Han Chinese Lhasa.
Obviously, China officials deny this. Qiangba Püncog, Chairman of the government of Tibet Autonomous Region of China said in 2007 that 92% of Tibet’s population are Tibetans as a rebuttal of the accusation of “sinicization (Chinafication)”. Information shows, however, although the majority of Tibet’s core areas are Tibetans, when we look at the entire Autonomous Region, the proportion of Tibetan, Han Chinese and other ethnic groups is: 68.16%, 21.8% and 10.04%. Does Chinafication (sinicization) exist is obvious.
Looking at Hong Kong, when we only read the population numbers, “one-way-permit-fication” is a undeniable fact. Mainland China media consider this as an important process of “China-Hong Kong Development”. The cover story of a July 2011 issue of Southern Metropolis Weekly was “New Emigrants: Change Hong Kong, Change China” (the article was written by Yau Lop Poon, Asia Weekly’s Chief Editor. It wrote on how new emigrants from Mainland China adapt and integrate into Hong Kong’s lifestyle. The article also pointed out that how many Mainland China elites glow and flourish in Hong Kong.
The article also cited the contributions of two Mainland Chinese to Hong Kong. One of them is Li XiaoGang, the CEO of Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The article said that Li graduated from the English Department of Xiamen University, and subsequently read Journalism and Law in the US. He worked in the financial industry in the West for years and took over HKEx, the first Mainland Chinese elite who manages Hong Kong’s financial platform.
Another individual cited in the article is Qian Gang, the author of “Aftershock – Tangsan”, who’s now the Director of the China Media Studies Project under Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. The article praise him for his “familiarity of Mainland China’s media landscape, and is likely to nurture a new generation of Chinese (China Chinese) journalists in Hong Kong”.
In fact, the article describes new emigrates as “becoming a force that can not be neglected in the Hong Kong society, and while building a new power, is becoming the ‘carrier’ of justice and democracy, is changing Hong Kong now and will certainly change the development of China”. However, the existing circumstance is: it remains uncertain whether new emigrants have the power to change China. What is certain is that Hong Kong’s legal system and democracy are deteriorating. The thing that will be changed, unfortunately, is Hong Kong which posses “quality city order” as described in the article.