Hong Kong: A World Leader in Freedom, but for How Long?

A community drumming group plays in Hong Kong, which is the only jurisdiction in Asia that made it to the top 10 of the Human Freedom Index 2016. (Image: Marvin Lee via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)
A community drumming group plays in Hong Kong, which is the only jurisdiction in Asia that made it to the top 10 of the Human Freedom Index 2016. (Image: Marvin Lee via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Hong Kong is the freest jurisdiction in the world, says a Canadian think-tank, which has cautioned that this is under threat if Beijing continues to interfere with the autonomous territory’s affairs.

Based on 76 indicators of personal, civil, and economic freedoms, the Toronto-based Fraser Institute’s survey said Hong Kong ranks as number one in its Human Freedom Index 2016 that covered 159 countries and jurisdictions.

Hong Kong’s number one spot place is largely because of its high score for economic freedom. It also got 10 out 10 for freedom of movement, religion, and relationships.

It’s the seventh time in a row that Hong Kong ranked number one in the survey.

All this despite Hong Kong never knowing democracy, something the survey doesn’t factor in directly.

“While the freedom index doesn’t measure democracy, democracy remains the best safeguard of personal freedoms, so if China encroaches on its one-country, two-system relationship with Hong Kong, we can expect Hong Kong’s ranking to drop,” said Fred McMahon, from the Fraser Institute and editor of the study in a statement.

“The Human Freedom Index measures civil liberties, economic freedom, the rule of law, freedom of movement, women’s rights, and much more,” McMahon said.

Switzerland, New Zealand, Ireland, and Denmark followed Hong Kong. Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia tied for sixth place based on data from the years 2008-2014. Other notable rankings included Germany at 13, the U.S. at 23, Japan 32, Russia 115, and China at 141. Libya was ranked the worst.

A night during 2014’s pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. (Image: Studio Incendo via Flickr/CC BY 2.0 )

A night during 2014’s pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. (Image: Studio Incendo via Flickr/CC BY 2.0 )

Hong Kong is the only Asian region featured in the survey’s top 10, which is dominated by Western-styled democracies.

“Hong Kong is unique in that it long enjoyed high levels not only of economic freedom, but also of personal liberty and income without transitioning to democracy,” said the survey.

Hong Kong scored well because of the system left by the British, who administered it as a colony up until 1997 before it was handed over to China under the “one country, two systems” model, which is in place until 2047.

“The territory’s close adherence to the policies and institutions it inherited from the British, including the rule of law, no doubt explain the stability its system has until recently displayed,” said the survey, which went on to warn about increasing encroachment by Beijing upon Hong Kong’s liberties.

“Clearly, the pro-democracy protests [of 2014] represent a political agenda not acceptable to Beijing, and are a reaction to interference and perceived interference by Mainland China in Hong Kong’s policies and institutions, including infringements on freedom of the press and the independence of the legal system,” said the survey.

“As the political future of Hong Kong plays out, we would not be surprised if we see a decline in its freedom ratings,” it added.

The November release of the findings comes with the backdrop of Beijing interfering with Hong Kong’s Basic Law (a mini-constitution) when its top legislative body barred two young elected lawmakers who sworn an oath of allegiance to Hong Kong, not to China.

See China Uncensored’s Chris Chappell interview Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, who talks about his new political party, Demosistō, and his concerns about Beijing’s encroachment in Hong Kong.

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