Saturday marks 20 years since Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain. In that time, the city of 7m people has changed in countless ways, with many new opportunities and problems. The disruptions riling Hong Kong underline just how much China is changing the world.
China’s breakneck growth since the handover in 1997 means Hong Kong today is much less significant to Beijing in relative economic terms. In 1997, China needed Hong Kong as a port, aviation hub and centre for foreign investment. Today the ports of Shanghai, Ningbo and Shenzhen all ship more containers than Hong Kong.
International investors who want to understand Chinese business and consumer trends are more likely to be stationed in Shanghai or Beijing. Hong Kong’s annual gross domestic product is now similar to that of neighbouring cities Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
Since the handover, trade with China has jumped from just over a third of Hong Kong’s total imports and exports to more than half.
Hong Kong’s location and status as a tariff-free port mean it is still able to capitalise on the rapid growth of China as an exporter of manufactured goods and an importer of consumer goods and industrial machinery, even if the rate of growth has been dwarfed by that on the mainland.
The flipside is that Hong Kong’s economy is more reliant on the mainland than it has ever been, at a time when growth in China has slowed and financial risks increased.
Sky-high house prices are a major complaint in Hong Kong, which has the world’s least affordable housing relative to income, according to US consultancy Demographia. The median house price is equivalent to 18 years of gross household income, presuming no tax or other living expenses.
The result is that many Hong Kongers live on top of each other in tiny apartments. Some 200,000 can only afford to live in sub-divided homes, which are comprised of flats and industrial units partitioned into miserable quarters with a median area of just 10 square metres.
As opportunities in China’s property market have thinned, heavily indebted mainland developers have pushed up land prices in Hong Kong government auctions to record highs. Chinese companies, which want to reduce their exposure to the slowing mainland economy and diversify their currency risk, acquired all the land sold by the government in the year to the end of May.
Hong Kong tycoons such as Li Ka-shing and Lui Che-woo, who have long been boosters of the property market, have stayed on the sidelines for fear of a bubble. Hong Kong democracy activists worry about the impact on future housing prices and their way of life because of what they call “red capital”.
As the economic and political problems have spiralled in Hong Kong, a growing number of young people are rejecting a Chinese identity they see as dominated by the Communist party in favour of a separate Hong Kong identity.
Just 3 per cent of Hong Kongers aged between 18 and 29 described themselves as broadly “Chinese” in a recent opinion poll by the University of Hong Kong — the lowest since the handover.
Growing tensions between China and Hong Kong have politicised the generation that has come of age since 1997. That means youth apathy is less of an issue here than elsewhere. But it is a big worry for Beijing, which is fearful of the threat of separatism, from Tibet to Hong Kong.
Eighteen times more mainland tourists came to Hong Kong last year than in 1997. The surge is partly the result of the rapid expansion in demand for outbound travel by the Chinese middle class and partly the result of moves by Beijing to make it easier for mainlanders to visit Hong Kong, which were implemented after the Sars outbreak in 2003 to help revive the local economy.
李嘉诚(Li Ka-shing)和吕志和(Lui Che-woo)等香港大亨正离场观望，担心有泡沫。长期以来，他们一直是香港楼市的推动者。香港民主活动人士担心，由于他们所称的“红色资本”的冲击，香港未来房价以及他们的生活方式会受到影响。
The inflow has created social pressures and prompted a backlash from some Hong Kongers unhappy about overcrowding on public transport and runs on baby milk following a safety scandal on the mainland. Feeling increasingly unwelcome in Hong Kong, and becoming more adventurous about global travel, the number of Chinese tourists coming to the city has recently started to drop.
香港大学(University of Hong Kong)最近组织的民调显示，在18岁至29岁的香港年轻人中，只有3%的人认为自己是广义上的“中国人”，这个比例为香港回归以来最低。