Background Notes: Hong Kong, October 1998
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
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
Climate: Tropical monsoon; cool and humid in winter, hot and
rainy from spring through summer, warm and sunny in fall.
Population: 6.7 million (mid-1998).
Population growth rate: 3%.
Ethnic groups: Chinese -- 95%, other -- 5%.
Religions: Eclectic mixture of local religions -- 90%, Christian
Languages: Cantonese (a dialect of Chinese) and English are
Literacy: 92% (96% male, 88% female).
Health: Infant mortality rate -- 4/1,000 (1997). Life expectancy
-- 79.1 years (overall); 76 (1998) years for males, 82 (1998)
years for females.
Work force (1998): 3.298 million. Merchandising, restaurants,
and hotels -- 43.8%; services -- 14.1%; manufacturing -- 12.5%;
finance, insurance, real estate -- 17.6%; transport and
communications -- 7.7%; construction -- 3.9%; other -- 0.4%.
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 -- Legislative Council
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 (1997): $172 billion.
GDP real growth rate (1998 est.): -4% (government preliminary
Per capita income (1998 est.): $26,302.
Natural resources: Outstanding deepwater harbor, feldspar.
Agriculture: Products -- vegetables, poultry.
Industry: Types -- textiles, clothing, tourism, electronics,
plastics, toys, watches, clocks.
Trade (1997): Exports -- $188 billion: clothing, electronics,
textiles, watches and clocks, office machinery. Main partners --
China, U.S., Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Singapore. Imports
-- $209 billion: 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 approximately 6.7 million by 1998. Hong Kong is
one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with an
overall density of approximately 6,100 people per square
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 3. Primary school begins normally at the
age of 6 and lasts for 6 years. At about age 12, children
progress to a 3-year course of junior secondary education. Most
stay on for a 2-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 (960-1279).
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
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. In May
1998, Hong Kong voters elected 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 10 elected by an
electoral college. The May 1998 elections were seen as free,
open and widely contested, despite discontent among mainly pro-
democracy politicians over the Government's "rollback" of the
franchise in some functional constituencies and limitation on the
number of directly elected seats. The Civil Service maintains
its quality and neutrality, operating without discernible
direction from Beijing.
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. Thus far, the transition to Chinese
sovereignty has been smooth. Hong Kong remains a free, open
society with an independent judiciary.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in December 1984 after
2 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 50 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
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 5
years of deliberation.
The ongoing region-wide Asian financial crisis, which began in
1997, has created uncertainty and instability in Hong Kong's
economy. Hong Kong is in recession, with 1998 GDP expected to
decline 4% and both stock market and property prices off 50%.
Private consumption, after increasing by 6.7% in 1997, is
expected to decline by 4.5% in 1998. Unemployment is up to 5%
from 2.2% in 1997. In August 1998, the government intervened in
the stock, futures, and currency markets to fend off
"manipulators," terming the move a one-time divergence from its
usual adherence to non-interventionist, market-oriented policies.
The banking sector remains solid and the government is committed
to the U.S./Hong Kong dollar link.
Hong Kong has little arable land 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 1997, Hong Kong's gross domestic
product (GDP) was $172 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 2.6% in 1989 and
3.4% in 1990. Growth rebounded to more than 5.1% in 1991 and to
6.1% in 1993 and continued to grow steadily until the first
quarter of 1998, when Hong Kong experienced negative growth for
the first time since 1984, with declines in construction, retail
sales and tourism.
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 services.
Hong Kong's foreign relations and defense are the responsibility
China has granted Hong Kong considerable autonomy in economic and
commercial relations. Hong Kong continues to be an active,
independent member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
U.S.-HONG KONG RELATIONS
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 United States has substantial economic and social ties with
Hong Kong. There are 1,100 U.S. firms (including over 400
regional operations) and 50,000 American residents in Hong Kong.
According to U.S. Government statistics, U.S. exports to Hong
Kong totaled U.S. $15.1 billion in 1997, and two-way trade
totaled U.S. $25.3 billion, making Hong Kong the United States'
15th-largest trading partner. U.S. direct investment in Hong
Kong at the end of 1997 totaled approximately U.S. $19 billion,
making the United States one of Hong Kong's largest investors,
along with the U.K., China and Japan.
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
Tel: (202) 331-8947
680 Fifth Avenue, 22 F
New York, NY 10019
Tel: (212) 265-8888
222 Kearny St., Suite 402
San Francisco, CA 94108
Tel: (415) 397-2215
Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General -- Richard A. Boucher
Deputy Principal Officer -- John Medeiros
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).
The following three sites are not U.S. Government web sites.
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, call 202-647-4000.
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-
888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648).
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.
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in
dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy or
consulate upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S.
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 http://www.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an 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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