Hong Kong's vanishing freedom on the agenda as China's annual congress begins

A bustling international hub, Hong Kong has proudly headed an important list of the world’s freest economies for 25 years. Now it’s not even possible anymore.

The latest edition of the The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom When Hong Kong was released on Thursday, it was banned from the list it once dominated because its policies are “controlled from Beijing”.

The news comes on the eve of China’s annual National People’s Congress, which kicks off in Beijing on Friday with greater control over the territory that appears to be on the agenda.

At last year’s event, Beijing unveiled a comprehensive national security law that it has since imposed, putting the global financial center more firmly on an authoritarian path despite months of violent protests.

The United States, its allies and international human rights organizations have heavily criticized China for the law, which they believe has undermined the city’s autonomy and helped Beijing quell dissent.

Now China’s stamp parliament will propose ways to “improve” the Hong Kong electoral system to ensure there are “patriots ruling Hong Kong,” panel spokesman Zhang Yesui said Thursday, confirming widespread reports of upcoming others Changes in the political fabric of the city.

Download the NBC News App for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

“Developments in recent years have shown that many Hong Kong policies are ultimately controlled from Beijing,” Anthony Kim, editor of the Index of Economic Freedom, told NBC News.

Kim said that “the city’s loss of political freedom and autonomy” over the past two years has “made Hong Kong indistinguishable from other major Chinese commercial centers in many ways.” However, he noted that both Hong Kong and Macau enjoy greater economic freedoms than cities on the mainland.

The Index report added that in the future, both Hong Kong and Macau would be viewed in the context of China’s ranking, which stood at 107 nations out of 178 – among the countries classified as “mostly unfree”.

The first place in the ranking of the index compiled by the right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation in Washington was instead occupied for the second year in a row by nearby Singapore.

The United States was in 20th place.

Hong Kong Finance Minister Paul Chan Mo-po pushed back against the rankings on Thursday.

He said Hong Kong’s “core economic competitiveness” remains strong under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement that has governed relations with mainland China since the end of British colonial rule in 1997.

“I do not agree that our economic policy has been taken over by the central government,” he told an online panel organized by The South china morning post.

“The decision to exclude Hong Kong from the report is not justified. It seems to me that when you made that decision, it must have been marred by your ideological bias and political bias.”

However, a separate report released this week said Beijing was responsible for “demolishing Hong Kong’s freedoms and legal autonomy” and undermining human rights – allegations it frequently denies.

The annual report of Freedom house, A US-based democracy watchdog group found that global freedom is generally on the decline – nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in countries that have experienced democratic decline in the past year.

China, India and the United States, faced with an outgoing leader denying election results and an outbreak of political violence with a riot in the Capitol on Jan. 6, were among the nations facing democratic deterioration.

“Right now, Hong Kong is at a challenging point … time will tell how the city can regain its vibrancy,” said Hong Kong Academic and Former Housing Minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung. “It is too presumptuous for some observers to conclude that Hong Kong is no different from mainland cities.”

Authorities said the security law was necessary to restore stability after the anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the area for months in 2019.

The law, which changed the economic and political landscape of Hong Kong, was first announced before the huge and highly choreographed set piece of the Chinese political calendar known as “Two Sessions”.

The event was postponed for two months last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (below) is greeted by Communist Party members as he arrives for the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on Thursday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

This year’s Congress will begin on Friday with around 5,000 Chinese Communist Party delegates expected to fill the Great Hall of the People, under which construction was carried out Mao Zedong.

Beijing is likely to use the 13th National People’s Congress to demonstrate its economic growth efforts after dealing with the pandemic, but China watchers will be looking for clues to Leader Xi Jinping’s offer for a competitive advantage against Washington.

Hong Kong is one of many hotspots for US-China tension. Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that China was America’s “greatest geopolitical test of the 21st century”.

He added that it was the only country with enough power to threaten the current international order.

“Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should, cooperative when it can, and controversial when it has to,” he said in a speech setting out the Biden government’s foreign policy vision.

Reuters contributed to this on this report.

Leave a Comment