Heritage Foundation drops HK on its closer Beijing ties

Top News | AFP and Winnie Lee 5 Mar 2021

Hong Kong has been removed from an annual index of the world's freest economies because the US think-tank that compiles the league table says the special administrative region is now under the control of Beijing.

The announcement is a blow for Hong Kong's reputation and comes as Beijing continues to ramp up its bid to quash any dissent after huge and sometimes violent demonstrations for democracy in 2019.

The conservative Heritage Foundation publishes the Index of Economic Freedom, ranking countries and territories for how business-friendly their regulations and laws have proved.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po criticized the decision, saying during an online conference the removal must have been affected by the foundation's "ideological inclination and political bias."

Under one country, two systems, Chan added, Hong Kong's information, capital and talent have "free mobility."

Over the last 26 years, Hong Kong topped the table for all but one year - a source of pride to the government, which often cited the accolade in investment brochures and press releases.

But the foundation now believes Hong Kong is not sufficiently independent of Beijing to justify a separate inclusion.

"The loss of political freedom and autonomy suffered by Hong Kong over the past two years has made the city almost indistinguishable in many respects from other major Chinese commercial centers like Shanghai and Beijing," Edwin Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation, said.

Its ties to Beijing "are increasingly forged in steel," Feulner added, while "traditions of English common law, freedom of speech and democracy have weakened significantly."

Feulner has been a vocal critic of Beijing and is chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Back in 2019, when Hong Kong topped the table for a 25th consecutive year, Chan said it reflected "economic resilience, high-quality legal framework, low tolerance for corruption, high degree of government transparency, efficient regulatory framework and openness to global commerce."

Hong Kong fell from the top spot for the first time last year, replaced by Singapore, after Beijing imposed the national security law for reasons of restoring stability. One prediction from a top SAR official then was that the city would soon return to the top.

Instead, Hong Kong and Macau are to be counted as part of China, which is currently in 107th place in the ranking, between Uganda and Uzbekistan in a section where economies are rated as "mostly unfree."

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