Switzerland has replaced Hong Kong as the world’s freest territory in the 2017 Human Freedom Index. The index is compiled by Canadian think tank the Fraser Institute and other international think tanks.

Hong Kong held the lead as the freest jurisdiction in the world for the past two years, largely as a result of its economic freedom score.

The index uses 79 indicators for personal, civil and economic freedoms to rank 159 countries and jurisdictions, measuring the degree to which people are free to enjoy civil liberties.

Photo: Human Freedom Index.

“Hong Kong’s fall from the top of the Human Freedom Index this year could indicate China is encroaching on its one-country, two-system relationship and the people of Hong Kong are materially less free because of it,” said Fred McMahon, the Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute. He is also the editor of the report.

The indicators used include those in the areas of rule of law, security and safety, movement, association, assembly, and civil society, expression and information, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation of credit, labour and business.

The index found a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy, but the report’s authors noted: “Hong Kong is an outlier in this regard.”

British systems

“The territory’s close adherence to the policies and institutions it inherited from the British, including the rule of law, may explain the stability its system has until recently displayed,” it said.

The report notes that Hong Kong is unique in that it has enjoyed high levels of economic freedom, personal freedom, and income without transitioning to democracy. But the authors added that the city has been dropping in the index’s ratings and rankings, and the authors would not be surprised to see Hong Kong further decline in its future rankings as its political future plays out.

“The pro-democracy protests that erupted in Hong Kong in 2014 may in part be a late manifestation of a pattern we have seen in other nondemocracies that liberalized their economies and subsequently liberalized their political systems as wealth and demands for political freedoms rose.”

A press freedom protest in 2014. Photo: Occupy Central with Love and Peace, via Facebook.

“Clearly, the pro-democracy protests represent a political agenda not acceptable to Beijing and are a reaction to interference and perceived interference by mainland China in Hong Kong’s policies and institutions,” the report said.

New Zealand, Ireland, and Australia follow Switzerland and Hong Kong as the freest countries in the index. The United States ranked 17th and China ranked 130th, while Venezuela and Syria were at the bottom.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.