By Keith Li, Harold Lee and Vanessa Yuen —
The Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok airport saw usual scenes of tears and hugs with unusual sadness in the past year as families and friends bade farewell to their loved ones who decided to leave the city for a better future. The latest wave of emigration hit the city in the aftermath of the enactment of the national security law in July 2020. it has shown no signs of easing.
But Chief Executive Carrie Lam and his administration were unmoved; they turned a blind eye to the mass departure. Lam said there were no figures to prove it. That was not true. Figures spoke of a clear trend of emigration.
To avoid harming the viability of Hong Kong as an international financial hub, it is high time the government should face the trend squarely and make remedies.
Statistics from the Census and Statistics Department show more than 90,000 people left Hong Kong in 2020, contributing to a drop in total population. The department had envisioned another major outflow in 2021.
Mrs Lam refrained from calling the mass exit wave of emigration. She said there was a “brain drain”. The “net outflow” figures, she said, did not accurately represent emigration statistics. She believed people who have left will return, adding some people quit because of the Covid restrictions. She was only telling the half-truth, without giving the big picture of the latest emigration wave. The worrying changes in the socio-political scene that unfolded since the national security law took effect have significantly prompted people to leave.
True, those who left Hong Kong may come back again. Who knows? But initial figures show that may only be wishful thinking. A Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority (MPFA) report shows more than 9,300 Hong Kong residents withdrew their MPF funds on the grounds of permanent departure in the third quarter of 2021. It represents an increase of about 15 percent when compared with the same quarter in 2020. It was a record high since the scheme was launched.
A survey conducted in schools shed more light on the exodus of Hongkongers. According to a survey by secondary school heads and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, secondary schools lost 4,500 pupils and 1,000 teachers in the last academic year. Numbers do not tell lies. They show clearly a fresh wave of Hongkongers leaving their home permanently. And if the trend continues, Hong Kong will not be able to thrive as vibrant as Mrs Lam had depicted.
Adding more gloom to the city’s prospect is a survey conducted by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC). The survey found the major age groups of emigrants fell between 30 and 39. Of them, more than half are middle-level executives. HKGCC chairman Peter Wong pointed out the city’s success relied on a highly-skilled workforce. “There is real cause for concern if we cannot stem the current brain drain.” The government should stop fooling themselves and instead recognize the emigration problem.
Admitting that the city is being hit by mass emigration is just the first step. It is also important to identify the causes to tackle the problem at its roots and find solutions. Like the previous waves of migration, there are always multiple reasons behind the decisions of people to leave the places where they were born and brought up. The ongoing mass departure of Hongkongers were triggered by fears over the erosion of freedoms and worsened by the chaos over the government handling of the Covid pandemic.
Start with Covid.
Constrained by the “one country, two systems” political framework, Hong Kong has stuck to the nation’s “dynamic-zero infection” strategy to keep the virus at bay. Sadly, the strategy has not been proven effective. At the peak of the fifth wave, infections skyrocketed exponentially, and hospitals were overwhelmed. But the government still doggedly persists in matching the strategy with the central government to show solidarity or, as cynics say, loyalty. There are worrying signs that politics have come into play in the Government’s anti-Covid strategy. Already dissatisfied with the tight social distancing rules, many of those who fled were probably also sickened by the government for putting politics above public health needs.
The seemingly political constraints on the Government’s anti-pandemic policies bred more jitters over the shrinking room for Hong Kong to run their own affairs under the “one country, two systems” policy. The changes could not be more obvious.
Shocked by the social unrest precipitated by prolonged protests against an extradition bill in 2019, the Central Government enacted a national security law for Hong Kong and overhauled the electoral system. The two-part tactic is aimed to put an end to chaos, restore stability and bring about prosperity, in that order. Some Hong Kong people, however, fear the worst is yet to come. According to a poll carried out by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the CUHK in September 2021, 42% of the interviewees say they intend to emigrate. They cited “decreasing democracy” and “collapsing liberty, human rights and freedom of information” as the main reasons for their plan to leave.
Like the pre-1997 wave of emigration, thousands of Hongkongers have packed their bags and fled due to a loss of confidence and hope in the future of the city. The trend has continued. But unlike their previous generations, many of them may not return to the city. This is because they found promises under “one country two systems” in the Basic Law have not been honoured in the past 25 years. To restore their confidence, granting the rights and freedoms they are entitled to in the Basic Law is vital – and never too late. But sadly, those in power seem not in the mood of listening and may not want to do so.
Edited by Chris Yeung
The writers are Year 4 students at Hong Kong Shue Yan University’s journalism department