Growing pains

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2002, 12:00am

As a small city with a huge population, Hong Kong's growth from third to first-world status over the past 50 years has been truly amazing.

From 1.6 million at the end of World War II in 1945, its population has more than quadrupled to about 6.8 million. Yet, Hong Kong has defied the conventional view that population increases can offset any gains in the per capita share of economic growth.

This is a fact that officials trying to work out a population policy would do well to remember.

When they first set foot here, most of the hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese immigrants, whether they had come through legal channels or not, were penniless. But a will to survive has seen many rise from rags to riches in a free society where opportunities abound. Left to their own devices, most have been resourceful enough to take care of themselves.

The argument has been made that Hong Kong should screen prospective immigrants from the mainland and admit only the skilled.

But it would be inhumane if we were to give precedence to the arrival of skilled talents over spouses and children of SAR permanent residents.

There is certainly a need for the SAR to avail itself of the contribution of talented mainlanders, just as it has long had a policy of welcoming foreign professionals. But this should not be used as an excuse to reduce the immigration quota for family reunions.

Some new arrivals have been a drain on our social services. The problem could perhaps be solved by recognising their right to settle here but providing them material incentives to stay in the mainland under a strictly administered means test.