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Hong Kong (11/00)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z 


Official Name:
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Area: 1,092 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 (mid-2000): 6.782 million.
Population growth rate (1999): 2.5%.
Ethnic groups: Chinese--95%, other--5%.
Religions: Approximately 43% participate in some form of religious practice. Christian--about 8%.
Languages: Cantonese (a dialect of Chinese) and English are official. Literacy--92% (96% male, 88% female).
Health (1999): Infant mortality rate--3.1/1,000. Life expectancy--79.8 yrs. (overall); 77.2 yrs. males, 82.4 yrs. females.
Work force (1999): 3.5 million: Wholesale, retail, and import/export trades and restaurants and hotels--45%; manufacturing--11%; finance, insurance, real estate, and business services--18%.

Type: Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, with its own mini-constitution (the Basic Law).
Branches: Executive--Executive Council, serving in an advisory role for the Chief Executive. Legislative--Legislative Council elected in September 2000. Judicial--Court of Final Appeal.
Subdivisions: Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years of age for permanent residents living in Hong Kong for the past 7 years.

GDP (1999): $158 billion.
GDP real growth rate (1999): 3.1%.
Per capita income (1999): $23,068.
Natural resources: Outstanding deepwater harbor, feldspar.
Agriculture: Products--vegetables, poultry.
Industry: Types--textiles, clothing, tourism, electronics, plastics, toys, watches, clocks.
Trade: Exports--$173 billion: clothing, electronics, textiles, watches and clocks, office machinery. Main partners--China, U.S., Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Taiwan. Imports--$178.6 billion: consumer goods, raw materials and semi-manufactures, capital goods, foodstuffs, fuels. Main partners--China, Japan, Taiwan, U.S., Singapore, South Korea.

Hong Kong's population has increased steadily over the past decade, reaching about 6.8 million by 1999. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with an overall density of some 6,300 people per square kilometer.

Cantonese, the official Chinese dialect, 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 in Hong Kong; ancestor worship is predominant due to the strong Confucian influence.

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, including the Longshan. 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 Ching 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 (1839-1842), 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 (1856-1858). The United Kingdom, concerned that Hong Kong could not be defended unless surrounding areas were also 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 emigrated from China to Hong Kong. This helped Hong Kong become an economic success and a manufacturing, commercial, and tourism center. High life expectancy, literacy, per capita income, and other socioeconomic measures attest to Hong Kong's achievements over the last four decades.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is headed by Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa. Mr. Tung assumed office on July 1, 1997, following his selection by a 400-member committee appointed by Beijing. Legislative Council elections were held in May 1998 and again in September 2000. According to The Basic Law, Hong Kong's "Mini-constitution," the Legislative Council has 24 directly elected members--30 members elected by functional (occupational) constituencies and 6 elected by an Election Committee. The 1998 and 2000 elections were seen as free, open, and widely contested, despite discontent among mainly prodemocracy politicians that the functional constituency and Election Committee elections are essentially undemocratic because so few voters are eligible to vote. The Civil Service maintains its quality and neutrality, operating without discernible direction from Beijing.

Principal Government Officials
Chief Executive--Tung Chee Hwa
Chief Secretary for Administration--Anson Chan
Financial Secretary--Donald Tsang
Secretary for Justice--Elsie Leung
Secretary for Security-Regina Ip

On July 1, 1997, China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong, ending more than 150 years of British colonial control. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China with a high 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's mini-constitution--for 50 years after reversion Hong Kong will retain its political, economic, and judicial systems and unique way of life and continue to participate in international agreements and organizations under the name, "Hong Kong, China".

Although concerns about the continued independence of the judiciary arose when the Hong Kong Government sought interpretation of the Basic Law from the National People's Congress following a controversial Court of Final Appeal ruling (the Right of Abode case), Hong Kong's courts remain independent and the rule of law is respected. Hong Kong remains a free and open society where human rights are generally respected.

After a slump caused by the regionwide Asian financial crisis that began in 1997, Hong Kong's economy is on the rebound. Real GDP growth was 3.1% in 1999 and reached double digits in the first half of 2000. After peaking at 6.3% in 1999, the unemployment rate eased back to 4.8% in mid-2000.

In August 1998, the government intervened in the stock, futures, and currency markets to fend off "manipulators," terming the move a one-time divergence from its usual adherence to noninterventionist, market-oriented policies. The banking sector remains solid, and the government is committed to the U.S.-Hong Kong dollar link.

Hong Kong has little arable land and virtually no natural resources, including water for agriculture. Agriculturally, it is less than 20% self-sufficient. However, its magnificent harbor has facilitated rapid development of foreign trade. Hong Kong's principal trading partners include China, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Singapore, and South Korea. Hong Kong enjoyed economic growth in the past because of its strong manufacturing sector, but in recent years the service sector has surpassed it in importance and now accounts for 85% of GDP. The major components of Hong Kong's service trade are shipping, civil aviation, tourism, and various financial services. Hong Kong has one of the world's most sophisticated telecommunications and information technology infrastructures and functions as a major regional and international financial and commercial center. In 1999, Hong Kong's gross domestic product (GDP) was $158 billion.

Hong Kong's foreign relations and defense are the responsibility of China. China has granted Hong Kong considerable autonomy in economic and commercial relations. Hong Kong continues to be an active, independent member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

U.S. policy toward Hong Kong, grounded in a determination to help preserve Hong Kong's prosperity, autonomy, and way of life, is stated in the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992. The United States encourages high-level visits to Hong Kong as evidence of close ties and the importance of Hong Kong to U.S. interests.

The United States has substantial economic and social ties with Hong Kong. There are some 1,100 U.S. firms, including more than 400 regional operations, and 50,000 American residents in Hong Kong. According to U.S. Government statistics, U.S. exports to Hong Kong totaled U.S.$12.6 billion in 1999 and two-way trade totaled U.S.$23.1 billion, making Hong Kong the United States' 15th-largest trading partner. U.S. direct investment in Hong Kong at the end of 1999 totaled approximately U.S.$20.8 billion, making the United States one of Hong Kong's largest investors, along with the U.K., China, and Japan.

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

1520 - 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 331-8947
Fax: (202) 331-8958

115 East 54th Street
New York, NY 10022
Tel: (212) 752-3320
Fax: (212) 752-3395

130 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
Tel: (415) 835-9300
Fax: (415) 421-0646

Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General--Michael Klosson
Deputy Principal Officer--John Medeiros

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).

Web Sites
U.S. Consulate General web site: The following sites are not U.S. Government web sites: Hong Kong homepage: Hong Kong Tourist Association:

Hong Kong Trade Development Council: For more information regarding visa requirements for Hong Kong, refer to the Hong Kong immigration web site:

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