CNN noted on Monday that Hong Kong residents seeking to emigrate from the island after 20 years of Chinese control now comprise almost 40 percent of the population and 57 percent of those are under 30 years of age.
This represents a dramatic increase from just three years ago when the share of aspiring emigrants was closer to 25 percent.
2014, the year of the “Umbrella Revolution,” is seen as the landmark year for Hong Kong’s opinion of Chinese rule because that is when China reneged on its promise of universal suffrage to the island. Hong Kong’s autonomy has been eroding ever since, while Beijing’s actions against pro-democracy troublemakers have grown more brazen.
The people of Hong Kong do not get to vote for their own chief executive; the position is filled by order of a committee strongly influenced by Beijing. The current officeholder, Carrie Lam, ran on a platform of reaching out to disaffected citizens and restless youth but also with the clear understanding that she needs to bring them around to China’s way of seeing things. She is also under pressure to impose an anti-sedition law known as Article 23. If Article 23 does not defuse the pro-democracy movement enough to satisfy China, there are fears China will interfere even more overtly and ruthlessly in Hong Kong politics and law.
For most of these people, departure is something of a daydream because only ten percent of them actually leave. When they do leave, according to a survey cited by CNN, their favorite destination is Taiwan – a logical cultural fit for Hong Kong emigres, but it might not be the optimum choice for people looking to permanently escape Beijing’s heavy hand.
Besides political instability, those hoping to emigrate from Hong Kong cite a deteriorating education system and the economy as motivations. The schools place heavy demands on children but are criticized as hidebound and slow to adapt to the demands of the modern workplace.
As for the economy, Reuters quotes street vendor Lau mei-tin: “You have to work yourself to death. If you don’t work and work, you can’t cover living costs. The situation in Hong Kong is terrible.”
The problem is that Hong Kong had a shortage of affordable real estate, to begin with, and now mainland Chinese millionaires are snapping up desirable property. Home prices blasted into orbit after the worldwide financial crisis in 2008. According to Reuters, an apartment of 200 square feet or less can now cost up to half a million dollars in Hong Kong, and there are long waiting lists for subsidized public housing units.
The housing situation is so dire that it is seen as one of the driving forces behind the Umbrella Revolution, mixing public frustration with the tangible failure of the government to address the crisis with the yearning for independence and representative government.
Hong Kong’s wealth is unusually concentrated in a small number of high-income individuals, giving it what international observers described as the worst income distribution in the world, which must be exceptionally galling to people standing in line for a spot in a subdivided, subsidized flat. They also worry about corruption and instability in the economy, exacerbated by developments like Tuesday’s news that $6 billion in capital vanished from the Hong Kong stock market in a single day of trading.
July 1 will mark the 20th anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China, a process immediately disfigured by Chinese strongarm tactics. The anniversary is sure to feature a number of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to attend.
Some observers feel the Hong Kong independence movement is gathering strength, especially among young people, while others say it’s increasingly clear China is firmly in control. According to the agreements signed in 1997, Hong Kong has 30 more years of limited independence remaining unless Beijing changes its mind in response to political or economic upheaval. It’s not surprising that many Hong Kong residents dream of being somewhere else when things come to a head.