Hong Kong’s population kept falling at a record pace over the past 12 months, as people left the city in the wake of the pandemic and the national security law that curtailed protest and dissent.
The city saw an outflow of 89,200 residents in the year that ended in June, leaving its population at about 7.39 million, according to government data released Thursday. That maintains the 1.2% rate of population decline set at the end of last year, the biggest drop in at least six decades for the city.
Hong Kong’s population fell by the most since at least 1961
“Concern over the national security law has played a major role in driving the latest wave of migration of local residents, especially for young families, as well as expats who chose to leave the city,” said Tommy Wu, lead economist at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong. The pandemic also had a key impact on cross-border movements and migration to Hong Kong, Wu said.
Hong Kong, which swelled in the post-war era amid waves of mass migration from the mainland, has suffered only two bouts of population decline since 1961. Both came amid political unrest and disease, including when the overall population shrank by 0.2% amid the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome and protests against an earlier security law in the 2002-03 period.
The recent declines have been sharper, amid a historic recession spurred on by the pandemic and political protests that intensified in June 2019. Last year, China decided to impose its own security law on the former British colony, raising questions about the “one country, two systems” framework that had underpinned its success as a financial center.
Some Hong Kong residents with foreign passports or other connections overseas have sought to relocate recently, especially to the U.K., which in January opened a pathway to citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) travel documents. In the first quarter of this year, the U.K. received more than 34,000 applications and granted 7,200, according to Home Office data.
Since 2020, Hong Kong also saw deaths outpace births for the first time in the six-decade period, the government data show. The current population figure includes the inflow of 13,900 people holding one-way permits and a net natural decrease of 11,800 people due to births and deaths.
When asked for a comment, a Hong Kong government representative referred to the report released Thursday that described the decline in city residents as “net movement, which includes the movement of Hong Kong residents into and out of Hong Kong for various purposes including work and study, is conceptually different from immigration and emigration.”
Shrinking Hong Kong
City’s population dropped substantially in past year
Hong Kong leaders, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, have argued that the security law had improved the city’s long-term viability by restoring political stability. They’ve cited the recent strength of the Hong Kong dollar and growth in local financial markets as evidence that warnings about outflows have been overblown.
Lam told a July 20 news briefing that people emigrate for various reasons and that support from Beijing had provided “unlimited opportunities” for city residents. “If you really want me to say something to these Hong Kong people who have immigrated, are immigrating or intend to immigrate, I will tell them that the future of Hong Kong is very good,” Lam said.