Hong Kong: Country Outlook Essay

1291 words - 5 pages

COUNTRY VIEWFROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNITOVERVIEW: Hong Kong is gearing up for the Legislative Council (Legco) election that will be held on September 12th. Pro-democracy politicians are likely to do well in the election, making life even more uncomfortable for the unpopular chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa. Very strong second-quarter figures mean that GDP is likely to expand by 7.4% in 2004 and by 4.7% in 2005. Positive consumer price inflation has returned to Hong Kong, although consumer prices will still fall by 0.2% in annual average terms this year, before rising by 0.4% in 2005. The current-account surplus will fall from US$16.2bn (10.3% of GDP) in 2003 to US$13.6bn (8.4% of GDP) in 2005.DOMESTIC POLITICS: On September 12th 2004 Hong Kong residents will cast their votes for a new Legco; directly elected seats will account for only one-half of the chamber. The election follows a year that has seen an unprecedented level of political activism in Hong Kong, characterised by an increase in pro-democracy and anti-government sentiment in the territory. The standing committee of the National People's Congress (China's legislature) has already handed down an "interpretation" of Hong Kong's Basic Law (mini-constitution) ruling out both universal suffrage for the election of Hong Kong's next chief executive in 2007 and an expansion in the ratio of directly elected seats in the 2008 Legco election. However, this has failed to dampen demands for reform. In a sign that feelings still run high, organisers claimed that 82,000 people attended this year's candle-lit vigil in memory of the June 4th 1989 massacre in the Chinese capital, Beijing, up from the usual attendance of 40,000-50,000. More significantly still, on July 1st between 200,000 (according to the police) and 500,000 (estimated by organisers) people joined a pro-democracy march--not far short of the 500,000-700,000 who took part in the seminal protest a year earlier.INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Under the Basic Law, defence and foreign affairs are the preserve of the central authorities in Beijing, with the Hong Kong government having authority only over external issues that relate to trade (Hong Kong is, for example, a member in its own right of the World Trade Organisation). Until recently, Hong Kong officials remained quiet when other countries commented on non-trade-related developments in the territory, content to allow the central government in Beijing to make representations on their behalf. This may now be changing. After the US government expressed "serious concern" in April over China's interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law, the territory's secretary for constitutional affairs, Stephen Lam, called on the US to refrain from interfering in China's internal affairs.POLICY TRENDS: The broad economic policy challenge facing the Hong Kong government in 2004-05 is to maximise the benefits accruing from the rapid economic development of China while minimising the costs. This makes it...

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