For the first time in almost 20 years, the population of Hong Kong had shrunk by the end of 2019 due to massive months-long protests that turned violent. With a new security law approved last week by China posing an even greater threat to what remains of the territory’s political freedoms, its population of 7 million may shrink even more this year.
For some Hong Kong residents, this may seem like a repeat of the events leading up to the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.
Back then, around half a million Hong Kongers chose to leave, with many moving to Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The move was sparked, at least in part, due to fears stemming from China’s crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, despite promises from Beijing that Hong Kong would experience the same way of life and freedoms for 50 years after the handover.
But Hong Kong’s residents started leaving long before the handover, with tens of thousands of people migrating starting from 1987, the majority of whom were professionals such as doctors, pharmacists, and accountants, a “brain drain” that alarmed officials.
However, a good number returned from time to time to enable them to avail of dual citizenship, keeping their foreign passports as a safety net should hard times arise. There is even a term for the returnees, “香港回流潮” or Hong-Kong returning tidal flow.
And now, it seems that many of Hong Kong’s residents are considering an exodus yet again.
After China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) announced the new national security law on May 21, inquiries concerning immigration to other countries have surged.
The law states that “law-based and forceful measures” must be taken in order “prevent, stop and punish” the protests that have rocked the city.
The chief executive of a Hong Kong-based immigration consultancy firm, Mr Andrew Lo, was quoted as saying on scmp.com on Sunday (May 31): “The day after that proposal, we received over 100 calls. People are restless. They ask if they can leave the next day.”
What has not helped is that Hong Kong seems to be caught smack in the middle of the US-China trade war. After the announcement of the new security law from Beijing, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Hong Kong could not be considered an “autonomous” region that deserved special treatment apart from China any more. After this, President Donald Trump said that the city’s special customs status would be revoked.
Golden Visas Portugal told scmp.com: “People who were just engaging us on basic information before are now firmly committing by putting down deposits. Never seen that before”, while Mr Gary Leung of Global Home, a property and migration consultancy, said: “We get an inquiry every 2 to 3 minutes.”
Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Taiwan among other places has opened its arms to Hong Kong residents. President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday (May 27) that a plan is being put in place by the Taiwanese government for Hongkongers’ “residence, placement, employment, & life in Taiwan”. /TISG