HK still freest economy, but rule of law ‘weakening’

A Canadian think-tank has once again ranked Hong Kong as the world’s freest economy, but warned that an “increased insecurity of property rights” and “the weakening of the rule of law” caused by interventions by Beijing will likely affect the city’s future scores.

In its Economic Freedom of the World 2021 Annual Report, which is made based on data for 2019, the Fraser Institute noted that Hong Kong’s overall scores fell by over one tenth of a point from the year before.

Almost all of the decrease is due to a decline in the city’s score for the category of legal structure and property rights.

“Hong Kong’s rating in this report still does not fully reflect all the unrest that began in 2019; or the new security law imposed in 2020 by the Chinese government, with potential sentences of life imprisonment, and the accompanying arrests in its aftermath,” the think-tank noted.

“We are perhaps just beginning to see the effect of policy changes in Hong Kong as the result of the 1997 establishment of Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region within China,” it said.

“The apparent increased insecurity of property rights and the weakening of the rule of law caused by the interventions of the Chinese government during 2020 and 2021 will likely have a negative impact on Hong Kong’s score, especially in [the area of] Legal System and Property Rights, going forward.”

In a statement, the SAR government welcomed the ranking.

“This is an unequivocal affirmation of Hong Kong’s long-standing and steadfast commitment to building a free economy with a level playing field,” the government said.

But it went on to call the institute’s comments regarding the city’s rule of law, the national security law and intervention by Beijing “unfair”.

“Under ‘One Country, Two Systems’, HKSAR’s trusted legal system remains as robust as ever. The rule of law is a fundamental core value of Hong Kong and much cherished by the community. We have been fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s fine tradition of the rule of law and judicial independence,” it said.

“The enactment of the national security law is for safeguarding national security, which is the legitimate right and duty of every state… There is no question of law-abiding persons inadvertently violating the law.”

The government added that Hong Kong will continue to uphold its strengths, including the rule of law and judicial independence.