The chief executive's remarks about Hong Kong's economic freedom has piqued the interest of a free-market watchdog. On Monday, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen declared the city no longer has a policy of 'positive non-intervention'. The Fraser Institute's executive director, Mark Mullins, said the institute would be 'on alert' to see whether Mr Tsang's remarks signalled the start of a new trend. He believed other international organisations would be equally watchful. The Canadian-based institute has found Hong Kong to be the freest economy in the world since the 1970s. 'If it is just one policy with limited application, then you can step back and say that's okay. But if it is a change in economic policy, or even if there is in fact now a conscious economic policy, then that would be something to be watchful of,' Mr Mullins said. Mr Tsang made the remarks after a summit to discuss the opportunities presented to Hong Kong by the mainland's 11th five-year plan. He said the government had been following a policy of 'big market, small government' where it acted to meet the market's needs. The Economic Freedom Index of the World published by the Fraser Institute has put Hong Kong at the top of the index since the 1970s, although its overall rating score fell from 9.1 in 1995 to 8.7 in 2004, the latest score. The institute has co-published the index with the Cato Institute in the US since 1996. Yesterday, some Hong Kong lawmakers called Mr Tsang's declaration mere rhetoric, noting the government had already adopted a more interventionist approach in recent years. Apart from the 1998 intervention in the stock market during the Asian financial crisis, the government has also played a more active role in boosting district economies and actively adjusting land supply amid a lacklustre property market. But Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee cautioned against any move away from a level playing field. 'It might give people this uncomfortable message that you will be included in economic plans only if you toe the government line.' Labour legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said Mr Tsang's remarks inspired his fight for a minimum wage as they showed the government was ready to intervene in the market. The co-author of the index, Robert Lawson, predicted that Hong Kong's free-market rating in the annual report would likely decline, although its top ranking would remain secure for now. 'As soon as any government spending picks up, there is no question that Hong Kong's rating would go down. But the thing is Hong Kong does have some room. It has a little lead in almost every category.'