U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Hong Kong, November 1997
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
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: 6.5 million (mid-1997).
Population growth rate: 2.6%.
Ethnic groups: Chinese -- 95%, other -- 5%.
Religions: Eclectic mixture of local religions -- 90%, Christian -- 10%.
Languages: Cantonese (a dialect of Chinese) and English are official.
Literacy: 92% (96% male, 88% female).
Health: Infant mortality rate -- 4.1/1,000 (1996). Life expectancy --
79.1 years (overall); 76.3 (1996) years for males, 81.8 (1996) years for
Work force (6/1997): 3.18 million. Merchandising, restaurants, and
hotels -- 43.8%; services -- 13.4%; manufacturing -- 13.4%; finance,
insurance, real estate -- 17.7%; transport and communications -- 7.7%;
construction -- 3.5%; other 0.5%.
Type: Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, with its own
constitution (the Basic Law).
Branches: Executive -- Executive Council, serving in an advisory role
for the Chief Executive. Legislative -- Provisional Legislative Council
(new Legislative Council will be elected in May, 1998). 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 (1996): $153.7 billion.
GDP real growth rate (1997 est): 6.25%.
Per capita income (1996 est.): $24,357.
Natural resources: Outstanding deepwater harbor, feldspar.
Agriculture: Products--vegetables, poultry.
Industry: Types--textiles, clothing, tourism, electronics, plastics,
toys, watches, clocks.
Trade: Export--$179.2 billion, including clothing, electronics,
textiles, watches and clocks, office machinery. Main partners--China,
U.S., Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Singapore. Imports--$196.9
billion, including 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 a total of 6.5 million in 1997. Hong Kong is one of the most
densely populated areas in the world, with an overall density of 6,042
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 over 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. Pre-school education for most children begins at
age three. Primary school begins normally at the age of six and last
for six years. At about age twelve, children progress to a three-year
course of junior secondary education. Most stay on for a two-year
senior secondary course, while others join full-time vocational
training. Over 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 Song Dynasty (960-
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. Despite Chinese laws prohibiting opium since 1799,
the British pursued and monopolized its trade until 1834. Concerned
about the rapid increase of opium in China, the Qing Government sought
to eradicate the drug trade. When Chinese officials seized and
destroyed large quantities of opium, the British sent forces in 1840 to
support demands for a commercial treaty or cession of an island for the
safety of British nationals; this sparked the First Opium War. China
lost the war; subsequently, Britain and other Western powers, including
the United States, forcibly occupied "concessions" and gained special
commercial privileges. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the
Treaty of Nanking.
Disputes over former treaties and the Chinese boarding of the British
ship Arrow started the Second Opium War (also known as the Lorcha Arrow
War), which lasted from 1856 to 1858. The Convention of Beijing, signed
in 1860, formally ended the hostilities and granted the British a
perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula. The United Kingdom was
concerned that Hong Kong could not be defended unless surrounding areas
were also under British control; in 1898, it executed a 99-year lease of
the New Territories, significantly expanding the size of the Hong Kong
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 in
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 election by a 400-member Selection Committee comprised of
prominent Hong Kong residents. The current unicameral 60-member
Provisional Legislative Council was selected by the same Selection
Committee. In May 1998, Hong Kong voters will elect 60 members of the
SAR's first Legislative Council. The Basic Law, Hong Kong's "mini-
Constitution," states that the first Legislative Council shall consist
of 20 directly elected members, 30 members elected by functional
(occupational) constituencies, and ten elected by an electoral college.
Principal Government Officials
Chief Executive--Tung Chee Hwa
Chief Secretary for Administration -Anson Chan
Financial Secretary--Donald Tsang
Secretary for Justice--Elsie Leung
On July 1, 1997, China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong
Kong, ending more than 150 years of British colonial control. The
government of Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa was also installed on that
date. While the transfer of sovereignty resulted in a number of
significant changes -- most notably the disbanding of the elected pre-
reversion Legislative Council -- most of the institutions and the vast
majority of the senior civil servants who oversee the daily operations
of the Hong Kong SAR remained unchanged.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in December 1984 after two
years of negotiations, provided the framework for this peaceful transfer
of sovereignty. The agreement stipulated that Hong Kong would become a
Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on July
1, 1997 but would retain a high degree of autonomy in all matters except
foreign and defense affairs. The Joint Declaration further stated that
for fifty years after reversion Hong Kong would retain its political,
economic, and judicial systems, and could continue participating in
international agreements and organizations under the name, "Hong Kong,
The Basic Law, which established Hong Kong's post-reversion political
and legal structure and serves as a mini-constitution for the Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region, was promulgated by the Chinese National
People's Congress in April 1990 after five years of deliberation.
Hong Kong has little arable and virtually no natural resources,
including water for agriculture. Agriculturally, it is less than 20%
self-sufficient, with shortages of rice and wheat. 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. With its modern
communications, transportation, and banking facilities, as well as
extensive expertise in trade and investment with China, Hong Kong has
joined the front ranks of East Asia's newly industrialized economies.
In 1996, Hong Kong's gross domestic product (GDP) was $153.7 billion.
After a period of very rapid growth between 1986-88, economic austerity
and the Chinese Government's crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989
reduced Hong Kong's growth to little more than 2% in 1989 and 1990.
Growth rebounded to more than 4% in 1991 and to 5.5% in 1993 and has
continued to grow steadily. Real GDP growth rose to 6.1% year-on-year
in the first quarter of 1997, and 6.0 - 6.5% year-on-year in the second
quarter of 1997.
Hong Kong has enjoyed economic growth in the past because of its strong
manufacturing sector, but in recent years the service sector has
surpassed it in importance. The major components of Hong Kong's service
trade are shipping, civil aviation, tourism, and various financial
Hong Kong's foreign relations and defense are the responsibility of
China has granted Hong Kong considerable autonomy in economic and
commercial relations. Hong Kong continues to be an active member of the
World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
U.S.-Hong Kong Relations
The United States has substantial economic and social ties with Hong
Kong with an estimated $16 billion invested there. There are 1,100 U.S.
firms and 50,000 American residents in Hong Kong. The United States was
Hong Kong's second-largest market in 1996--the U.S. imported $9.9
billion. Hong Kong was America's 14th-largest export market in 1996,
taking $14.0 billion in U.S. exports. The U.S. trade surplus with Hong
Kong totaled $4.1 billion in 1996.
U.S. policy toward Hong Kong is grounded in a determination to help
preserve Hong Kong's prosperity and way of life. 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 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
680 Fifth Avenue, 22 F
New York, NY 10019
222 Kearny St., Suite 402
San Francisco, CA 94108
Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General -- Richard A. Boucher
Deputy Principal Officer -- Stephen A. Schlaikjer
The U.S. Consulate General is located at 26 Garden Road, Hong Kong.
Tel: (852)2523-9011. FAX: (852)2845-1598 (general): (852)2845-4845
(consular); (852)2845-9800 (commercial).
Useful web sites include the following:
Hong Kong homepage:
Sintercom Hong Kong homepage:
China Internet Information Center homepage:
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel
Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends
that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular
Information Sheets exist for all countries and
include information on immigration practices, currency regulations,
health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country.
Public Announcements are issued as a means to
disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other
relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant
risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this
information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs
at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000.
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available
on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program
to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation
to VT100. The login is travel and the
password is info (Note: Lower case is required).
The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau
of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning
a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling
abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services
at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays,
Passport Services information can be obtained
by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per
minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday
($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778).
Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-
Travelers can check the latest health information with
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta,
Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health
advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and
advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries.
A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel
(HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency
and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest
to travelers also may be obtained before your departure
from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this
country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing
in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling
in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy
upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy
Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family
members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network.
Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access
to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN
includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official
magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country
Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published
on a semi-annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC
archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs
Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information
from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by
the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of
trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-
usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more
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