SCMP Saturday, November 10, 2001
Expat exodus 'a threat to image'
An exodus of Westerners since the handover is threatening Hong Kong's status as an international city, according to legislators.
The warning came as lawmakers were briefed on the results of the 2001 Census at yesterday's financial affairs panel meeting.
Some panellists noted a sharp fall in the population of Westerners over the past five years and called for more in-depth studies.
The census showed the number of Britons in Hong Kong dropped by more than 85 per cent from 175,395 - or 2.8 per cent of the population - in 1996, to 25,418, or 0.4 per cent of the population, this year.
The Commissioner for Census and Statistics, Frederick Ho Wing-huen, said the figures showed some Westerners had left at about the time of the handover.
He said he believed this was largely due to the application of the Chinese nationality law after the transition.
Under the Chinese nationality law, Hong Kong residents and former residents of Chinese descent born on the mainland or in Hong Kong are of Chinese nationality.
People classified as non-Chinese in the 1991 census and 1996 by-census, mainly those who obtained British nationality under the British nationality scheme and who emigrated, were classified as Chinese in the 2001 census if they had returned to stay in Hong Kong, Mr Ho said.
It is believed that the new classification accounted for the sharp drop of the number of British nationals in this year's census.
The British nationality scheme, launched in 1990 to provide a "safety net" for local professionals after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, offered 50,000 places to Hong Kong residents.
Americans and Canadians also saw a sharp decline this year, with 14,379 Americans, compared to 28,946 in 1996, while the number of Canadians fell to 11,862 from 32,515 over the same period.
Filipinos comprise the biggest non-Chinese ethnic group in Hong Kong, with 143,662 people recorded in the census, most of whom were working as maids.
Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of The Frontier, called for more studies to be carried out. "We like to say Hong Kong is an international city, but the figures seem to suggest many non-Chinese people are leaving," she said.
Non-affiliated lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee SC, who represents the legal profession in the legislature, said it was important to know the real reasons why people had left.