Population push from the north

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2000, 12:00am

You may not have noticed it but the Government has just come up with a new population forecast all the way out to the year 2029 and it raises two points of interest.

The forecast says Hong Kong's population will grow by an average of 1 per cent a year - from 6.72 million people in the middle of last year to 9.05 million within 30 years. Natural increase (births over deaths) will account for only 24 per cent of the growth with immigrants constituting the remainder.

Let us get the quick and dirty point over first. You may be getting a little tired of columns about the Mass Transit Railway Corp, but when you spot a good one you cannot just let it drop.

The MTRC's prospectus featured a forecast of passenger revenues by its traffic consultants, MVA Hong Kong, and their study (an optimistic one, you will not be surprised to hear) was based on a population forecast of 8.93 million people by the year 2016.

The new Census and Statistics population study, however, indicates we will reach this figure in the year 2028. So here is the challenge to you, MVA. Could you please provide us new MTRC projections based on what is now an official Government forecast? Your earlier ones were perhaps a touch too high, you think? Please tell us how you got it so wrong. Did you not bother to talk to Census and Statistics?

There, that is your day's dose of vitriol from this nasty scribbler.

Time for the next point. A 30-year population forecast should not be treated as a confident prediction but a basis for planning studies. Even so, it raises the question of why we should have 1 per cent annual population growth for 30 years.

This is not a low figure. It implies a doubling of population every 70 years and anyone who lives in a community that does this can expect to have most of their working career devoted to providing only new infrastructure for the population boom, leave alone their own welfare.

Put it in context. Asia may be the reproductive hotbed of the world but its population growth is declining steadily and is already far less than 1 per cent overall. What is more, you expect to see high population growth in poor countries but Hong Kong is a rich one.

The reason for the growth, of course, is the immigrants.

As the chart shows, most of our population growth once came from natural increase.

This has declined rapidly during the past 15 years and you may well wonder, given the trend and our ageing population, whether the 30-year forecast for natural increase is not a little high. We shall ignore this.

Look instead at the inflow of immigrants. The figures are distorted by a recent change in how population is counted but the trend is clear.

Immigration rocketed in the 1990s, reached a peak in 1997 and then receded with the financial crisis.

In the future, however, Government planners expect it to continue at relatively high levels.

The official forecast implies that Hong Kong will still be taking in about 66,000 immigrants a year in 2029. Almost all of them will be from the mainland and this raises questions we must ask ourselves. Do our doors up there at the border have to remain so wide open for so long?

Are we really getting through them the people our economy needs?

Are we happy to continue imposing this strain on our already overcrowded city indefinitely?

The one clear message to come out of this population study is that we need to reconsider our mainland immigration policies.

Graphic: mon9xgbz