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Hong Kong

Facts & Figures

Status: Special Administrative Region of China

Chief Executive: Leung Chun-ying (2012)

Land area: 382 sq mi (989 sq km); total area: 422 sq mi (1,092 sq km)

Population (2014 est.): 7,112,688 (growth rate: 0.41%); birth rate: 9.38/1000; infant mortality rate: 2.73/1000; life expectancy: 82.78

National Holiday: National Day, October 1

Major sources and definitions

Hong Kong consists of the island of Hong Kong (32 sq mi; 83 sq km), Stonecutters' Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories on the adjoining mainland. The island of Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1841. Stonecutters' Island and Kowloon were annexed in 1860, and the New Territories, which are mainly agricultural lands, were leased from China in 1898 for 99 years. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China. The vibrant capitalist enclave retains its status as a free port, with its laws to remain unchanged for 50 years. Its first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, formulated a policy agenda based on the concept of “one country, two systems,” thus preserving Hong Kong's economic independence.

In a series of massive demonstrations in July 2003, more than 500,000 people took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest proposed antisubversion laws that curtailed civil rights. Surprisingly, Tung Chee-hwa scrapped the law in September. After pro-democracy parties handed pro-China parties a stunning defeat in November elections, China quickly moved to stifle the democracy movement. In April 2004, Beijing officials postponed indefinitely the expansion of the number of popularly elected legislators. Hundreds of thousands protested. Pro-democracy candidates took about 60% of the popular vote in Sept. 2004 elections, but Beijing's legislative system granted them only 40% of the seats in the legislature.

Donald Tsang, with the backing of Beijing, was overwhelmingly reelected as chief executive in March 2007. Tsang was challenged by Alan Leong, the former leader of the Hong Kong Bar Association and an advocate for voting rights in Hong Kong.

China said in December 2007 that Hong Kong citizens will directly elect the chief executive in 2017 elections and the legislature by 2020. However, the candidates will have been approved by the Chinese government. Under the current system, an election committee loyal to the Chinese government elects the chief executive, and a body made up of pro-China business groups elects half of the legislators.

In June and July 2014, the pro-democracy group called Occupy Central held an unofficial referendum on how the island's chief executive will be elected in 2017. About 90% of the 800,000 who voted endorsed giving citizens direct say in the election. Weeks of pro-democracy protests followed the referendum. In late August, China's National People’s Congress Standing Committee ruled that the 1,200-member election committee would vote on candidates for chief executive, and those garnering votes from more than half of the committee could run. The decision sparked much larger protests, which intensified throughout September, with tens of thousands of demonstrators shutting down the heart of the business district. On September 28, police in riot gear cracked down on protesters, using tear gas and batons. Despite the violence, protesters returned to the streets. About 100,000 protesters turned out after the crackdown and set up camps surrounded by metal barricades on highways and streets near government buildings and crowded business districts. The protests threatened the stability of the financial hub.

The protests continued into October, but the number of people participating dwindled. On October 21, student protesters and government officials held a televised, two-hour meeting. Little progress was made, as Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong official who headed the talks, said the two sides must "agree to disagree." Nevertheless, the talks were notable for occurring at all.

In November, police, acting on a court order, began dismantling the barricades. They initially met little resistance from protesters, whose numbers have dwindled and who have lost support of residents as it became increasingly clear that the government would not budge on the election issue. But their effort to take down barricades in the Mong Kok district was met with resistance, and police used tear gas on the demonstrators. Dozens of protesters were arrested. In a move that signalled the end of the protests, police cleared tents from the main protest area in mid-December, ten weeks after the protests began. The Chinese government refused to make any concessions, but the protesters made clear that they have been emboldened to challenge the government. These were the largest protests since the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

See also Encyclopedia: Hong Kong
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Hong Kong .
Census and Statistics Department www.info.gov.hk/censtatd/ .


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