A Canadian think tank has again ranked Hong Kong as the most economically free jurisdiction out of 162 in the world. But it gave another warning that interference from mainland China may cause Hong Kong to fall from its lead.

The Economic Freedom of the World 2018 Annual Report by the Fraser Institute gave Hong Kong 8.97 points out of 10 in total – the same as last year’s score. Singapore and New Zealand were ranked second and third at 8.84 and 8.49 points respectively. China stood at 108th place with 6.46 points.

In the main areas of the study based on 2016 data, Hong Kong was ranked top in regulation and freedom to trade internationally. The city also ranked fourth in terms of size of government, in which a smaller government is considered better.

Photo: Fraser Institute.

Hong Kong ranked 11th in terms of its legal system and property rights and 19th in sound money – an index on the level of inflation.

“While Hong Kong is still the most economically free, there is a valid concern that interference from mainland China—which ranks 108th in economic freedom—will ultimately lead to deterioration in Hong Kong’s top position, particularly in rule of law, which helps ensure equal freedom for all,” said Fred McMahon, Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair of the Fraser Institute.

McMahon gave a similar warning in 2017 report. In the 2016 report, McMahon warned that Hong Kong’s ranking would drop if “China encroaches on its one country, two systems relationship with Hong Kong.”

Taiwan rose in the ranking from 15th to 12th. “Citizens in China continue to be far less free economically than citizens in virtually all jurisdictions and countries within the region,” McMahon said.

Hong Kong and China flag. Photo: inmediahk.net.

The government welcomed the ranking, and said: “The hard-earned results vividly reflect Hong Kong’s steadfast commitment to building a free economy with a level playing field.”

“The Government will continue to build a robust institutional framework, uphold the fine tradition of rule of law and maintain an efficient government, so as to provide a level playing field. This should provide a favourable environment for our economy to thrive,” a spokesman said.

But the spokesman said the government rejected the institute’s concern that mainland Chinese interference will lead to a deterioration of the rule of law.

“We must point out that there are no objective facts showing that the rule of law or judicial independence in Hong Kong has been subject to any interference,” he said. “Judicial independence is the bedrock of Hong Kong’s economic freedoms and is protected by the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

Photo: Court of Final Appeal.

“The court system in Hong Kong is as transparent as ever and justice is impartial in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that hearings were generally public, the media is free to report on proceedings and the public can access judgments online.

“The rule of law, including judicial independence, is alive and well in Hong Kong. Judicial independence is pivotal to Hong Kong’s continuous success as the world’s freest economy. We have faith in the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong, and will strive to enhance the proper understanding of the international community in this respect through different channels,” the spokesman added.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.