Hongkongers are leaving for Canada – but 150 mainland Chinese replace them every day
By my calculation that means Hong Kong has become the permanent home to 620,500 new people from mainland China in little more than 20 years
Pondering the news this week that a record number of Hongkongers since the handover moved to Canada last year – presumably because Victoria Harbour had lost its fragrance – two very different characters came to mind. Pillar of the special administrative region establishment, Elsie Leung Oi-sie and the American writer, Mark Twain.
Leung because of something she said and Twain because of something he didn’t.
In May, Leung – one of Beijing’s top advisers on how things are panning out in Hong Kong – said a 25 per cent growth in the city’s population since the end of British colonial rule in 1997 was evidence that the “one country, two systems” constitutional framework under which the city has been operating since, was a success.
To bolster her argument that everything was fine and dandy in Hong Kong, Leung said if it wasn’t, more people would have left.
It was at this point Mark Twain, and a quote from 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli which he popularised, popped into my head.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”, by which I am pretty sure he meant that the persuasive power of statistics are to a weak argument what soothing words and a sticking plaster would be to someone who has just lost a limb.
With more speakers of Mandarin than Cantonese in Canada now, what future for the southern Chinese dialect there?
In the interests of fairness, it should be said that Canada is only one of the countries – albeit a significant one – to which Hong Kong people can migrate and therefore the numbers released by the Canadian government recently are only a possible indicator of wider trend. By the same token, the numbers involved are not exactly humungous, so maybe Leung had a point.
Or maybe she didn’t.
Buried in the press release issued late last week by the government detailing its latest population projections – and the bulk of the subsequent media coverage of it – was the following passage.
“There will be a continuous net inflow of persons into the Hong Kong population over the entire projection period.
“A major component of the net movement of the population is holders of the One-Way Permits (OWP). Taking into account the trend of OWP holders coming to Hong Kong in recent years, the Census and Statistics Department has adopted a daily inflow of 100 OWP holders (or 36 500 OWP holders per year) as the long-term assumption.
“A government spokesman noted that the mainland [Chinese] authorities have no plan to revise the existing daily OWP quota of 150. The OWP scheme continues to enable the orderly entry of eligible persons (predominantly separated spouses and their children born in the mainland) to come to Hong Kong for family reunion.”
One-way permits are the documents which have allowed up to 150 eligible mainland people to move here each day since July 1, 1997. By my calculation, using the lower figure employed by our local statistics officials, that means Hong Kong has become the permanent home to 620,500 new people from mainland China in little more than 20 years.
Whether that is a good thing, or a bad thing, or even a thing you hold no strong opinion about, is up to you.
But what is definitely not a good thing is to obscure, obfuscate, cover your eyes and ears and hum loudly, pretending that it hasn’t happened.
As the government themselves acknowledged in their 2015 population report: “The inflow of OWP holders has been responsible for more than 60 per cent of the city’s population growth every year for the past decade.”
Like it, lump it or have no opinion at all about it, it is downright irresponsible to ignore such a significant internal movement of people – and the tough economic, political and cultural policy decisions it brings for a city, in which we are told ad infinitum that space is at a very expensive premium for us all.
Folks, the results – or the nearest we can get without a time-machine – are in. It’s official.
Hong Kong’s population will rise to a peak at 8.22 million in 2043, and even if it does drop as predicted to 7.72 million by 2066, that’s 1.74 million more than it was in 1997.
Deal with it. Unless of course, that’s the point and those who direct the opposing foot soldiers on the front line of the most recent political war of words would rather we didn’t.