Hong Kong Human Freedom Ranking Plunges to 46th Globally: Fraser Institute

by EditorL

A view of the Hong Kong skyline from Kowloon on Feb. 2, 2023. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images)

Hong Kong’s global human freedom ranking has plummeted to 46th place, according to a recent study by the Fraser Institute.

The Human Freedom Index 2023 report, conducted in collaboration with the U.S.-based Cato Institute, highlights Hong Kong’s descent from its previous standing as the third-freest jurisdiction worldwide in 2010, a position determined by the thinks tanks. The study attributes this drop to the growing restrictions imposed by the Chinese regime on the international economic hub.
Influence from communist-controlled mainland China is underscored in the report, which notes that China itself ranks 149th out of 165 jurisdictions evaluated globally this year.

“Freedom has suffered a precipitous decline in Hong Kong, but its tragic descent into oppression provides important lessons about the value of freedom,” report co-author Fred McMahon, a Fraser Institute resident fellow and holder of the Dr. Michael A. Walker Chair in Economic Freedom, said in a Dec. 19 press release.

Tightened Control

Hong Kong, a former British colony designated as one of China’s special administrative regions since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, initially enjoyed relative autonomy, featuring separate legal and administrative systems compared to the rest of the People’s Republic of China. However, in recent years, Beijing has tightened its control, notably marked by the introduction of the Hong Kong National Security Law in June 2020.

The law was enacted amid a massive pro-democracy movement that began in 2019. It established specific crimes of secession, subversion of state power, and collusion with foreign entities, widely regarded as a means to curb both free speech and promotion of democracy in Hong Kong. Since its enactment, authorities have closed down outspoken media outlets and arrested hundreds of pro-democracy figures.

The Fraser Institute index measures human freedom based on a dozen metrics, encompassing the rule of law, safety and security, and freedom of movement, speech, assembly, and religion. These metrics are evaluated alongside economic freedom, representing the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions.
The Toronto-based think tank reported that from 2019 to 2021—the latest year of available data—89.8 percent of the world’s population experienced a decline in freedom. In Hong Kong, the most pronounced declines during this period were observed in the areas of rule of law, freedom of expression, and freedom of association and assembly, the report stated.

“Suppression in Hong Kong continues to ramp up as the jailing of journalists and pro-freedom advocates grows, with arrest warrants issued for exiled activists to quash even overseas dissent,” report co-author Ian Vásquez, Cato Institute vice-president for international studies and director of its Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, said in the press release.

On Dec. 14, Hong Kong police issued arrest warrants for five activists, including a U.S. citizen and a U.S. resident, accusing them of violating the city’s National Security Law. All five are currently residing outside Chinese territories, including in the United States and the United Kingdom. Hong Kong police are offering a reward of HK$1 million (approximately C$171,000) for information on each.
These arrest warrants mirror a previous move in July, when Hong Kong police issued warrants and bounties for eight pro-democracy activists in exile, including Dennis Kwok, a former Hong Kong politician born in Canada.
Canadian MPs, including the Tories’ foreign affairs critic Michael Chong, have condemned Hong Kong authorities for extending intimidation against pro-democracy activists who have fled overseas. This includes issuing arrest warrants and bounties for them.
“Conservatives condemn the Hong Kong government’s ongoing effort to intimidate individuals living in democracies standing up for human rights and democracy, including those from Canada,” Mr. Chong wrote in a Dec. 16 post on social media platform X.

MPs unanimously adopted a motion on Dec. 12 calling for the release of Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy campaigner and founder of the newspaper Apply Daily. Mr. Lai, 76, went on trial in Hong Kong on Dec. 18, with his trial expected to last 80 days. He is accused of “collusion” with foreign forces and participating in a conspiracy to publish “seditious” publications under the national security law and a British colonial-era sedition law. Apple Daily became defunct in June 2021 under the Hong Kong National Security Law.

Global Rankings

In this year’s freedom ranking, the top positions are secured by Switzerland, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, and a tie between Estonia and Sweden for 5th place. The five least-free countries, in descending order, are Iran, Myanmar, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria.

Meanwhile, Canada secured the 13th place in the global freedom ranking. The report also highlighted notable worldwide rankings for other countries, with Taiwan at 12th place, Japan at 16th, the United Kingdom and the United States tied at 17th, Germany at 21st, South Korea at 28th, France at 39th, Ukraine at 83rd, Mexico at 95th, and India at 109th.

The report highlighted that residents in freer jurisdictions tend to be more prosperous than those in less-free jurisdictions. For instance, the average per-capita income for the top quartile of jurisdictions on the index was US$47,421, compared to US$14,157 for the least-free quartile in 2021.

“Human freedom increases prosperity and human well-being and has powered the growth of some of the most remarkable jurisdictions in the world, including Hong Kong,” Mr. McMahon said.

Other co-authors of the report are Ryan Murphy, a research associate professor at the Bridwell Institute for Economic Freedom at Southern Methodist University, and Guillermina Sutter Schneider, a data scientist and research and project manager at the Cato Institute.

Frank Fang and Eva Fu contributed to this report

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