Overview of the SAR of Hong Kong

A brief overview of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong: its geographic location, history, government, climate, security, tourism and international community...


Hong Kong covers 426 square miles and is situated on China's south coast. It lies to the east of the Pearl River Delta in the South China Sea and has a deep natural landform harbour called Victoria Harbour. To the north, it borders the city of Shenzhen over the Shenzhen River.

The Hong Kong area consists of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and over 200 outlying islands. Although considered densely populated, in reality less than 25 percent of its landmass is developed due to its mountainous terrain. The highest point in Hong Kong is Tai Mo Shan, standing at 957m above sea level.

The coastal areas of Hong Kong are 733 Km in length and are characterised by many bays, beaches and rivers.


Archaeological findings suggesting human activity in the area have been found dating back 30,000 years. Stone tools found in the Sai Kung and Wong Tei Tung areas are thought to be pre-historic and from the Stone Age.

The area was first incorporated into Imperial China during the Qin Dynasty in the 3rd century BC by its first emperor Qin Shi Huang. It is thought that salt production existed in the area as long as 2,000 years ago.

The Tang Dynasty period saw the area become a regional trading centre and a military town defending the surrounding coasts.

The first European contact with the area occurred in 1513 with Portuguese explorer Jorge Alvares. The Portuguese subsequently established a trading post and military fortifications before clashes with the Chinese led to their expulsion. Contact with foreign civilisation and maritime activities were banned in the mid-16th century and the Hong Kong area suffered an exodus of people moving inland. By 1669, the area was reported to have become a wasteland until Emperor Kangxi reopened trade links with foreign powers.

The East India Company made contact with the area in 1699, which saw the start of a long relationship between Hong Kong and Britain. By 1711, Britain had established substantial trade routes in the area and its first trading post in Canton.

The import and export of opium became a large source of wealth for both the British and Chinese. In 1839 the Chinese sought to restrict the flow of silver and the spread of opium by seizing supplies from British traders. The British used violent redress and this led to the First Opium War between the two nations. Hong Kong Island was occupied by British forces and was officially established as a British colony in 1842 with the founding of Victoria City.

After the Second Opium War (inspired by The Arrow Incident) from 1856-1860, Britain obtained further territory in the region in the form of Stonecutter Island and the Kowloon Peninsula.

In 1898 Britain obtained a 99-year lease on the "New Territories" of Lantau Island and the northern lands beside it, under the term of the "Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory".

Over the next century Britain established an education system based on the domestic model while the area became a free port and vital trading post of the British Empire.

In 1941 the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Hong Kong and the area saw major food shortages, hyperinflation and mass exodus of people to China. By the time the British resumed control in 1945 the population had shrunk by over one million people, although this had largely recovered by 1949 as hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the Chinese Civil War. Corporations based in Shanghai and other major centres also moved operations to Hong Kong once it became apparent that the communist party had seized power in China.

Throughout the 1950s Hong Kong grew rapidly through its manufacturing industries and a relationship with the special economic zone in China just north of its borders. It became a main source of foreign investment and saw its population flourish, labour costs remain low, and the standard of living rise.

In the 1980s and 1990s manufacturing declined due to competition from mainland China. As a result, the service sector expanded rapidly.

Hong Kong was reclassified as a "dependent territory" in 1983 and in 1984 the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed ceding Hong Kong back to China in 1997, subject to the guarantee of 50 years of autonomy.

Politics and Government

Hong Kong is governed according to the "One Country, Two Systems" approach proposed by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It proposed that after the reunification of China, independent Chinese regions such as Hong Kong and Macau could still retain their capitalist systems for 50 years. As such, Hong Kong still has a high level of autonomy in all levels of governance except defence and foreign affairs, and is governed according to the Basic Law of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is governed by the Executive Council, which is headed by the Chief Executive. The Chief Executive is elected through an appointed 800-member election committee and then appointed by the Chinese Government. The Executive Council holds Executive Power in the city.

The Legislative Council consists of 60 members with terms lasting four years. Half of the members are elected by the permanent residents of Hong Kong while the other half are elected by around 180,000 electorates from various business and professional sectors. Its role is to enact and amend laws, manage budgets, approve taxation and monitor the role of the government.

The Judiciary in Hong Kong is completely separate from that of China. It continues to follow the British Common Law system whereby previous cases in other common law jurisdictions can be referred to as precedents. Judges are appointed by the Chief Executive and the court structure consists of the Court of Final Appeal, the High Court, and District Court.

Policies and government services are implemented by the Civil Service. Hong Kong is divided into 18 administrative districts, each with its own district council.


Known as one of the "Four Asian Tigers", Hong Kong is one of the world's leading financial centres with a service economy characterised by free trade and low taxes. Through governmental non-interventionism, which means almost zero import and export controls, it is regarded as having the world's freest economy.

The economy in Hong Kong is dominated by the service sector, which accounts for 90 percent of its GDP. The labour force is 3.7 million and the unemployment rate is approximately 3.4 percent.

Although Hong Kong's main export markets are to China, USA and Japan, the majority of its exports are re-exports; usually made in China but distributed through Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is rated second in the Ease of Doing Business Index, and is rated as the world's eighth most expensive city for expatriates.

The currency of Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Dollar, which is the equivalent to approximately US$ 0.13.


Hong Kong has a humid subtropical climate, which is characterised by hot, humid summers and mild winters. In July and August, average high temperatures are just over 31 degrees C; in January and February the average high is just over 18 degrees C.

The summer period is also the wettest, with thunderstorms and often typhoons punctuating the heat. Winters see cooler winds coming from the north. Autumn and spring are the two most temperate seasons of the year.


The crime rate in Hong Kong is low and there are no specific safety concerns, but it is always advisable to check before travelling:


Approximately 95 percent of the Hong Kong population are from Chinese descent; however, residents of mainland China are not able to freely move to reside in the city.

The majority of immigration to Hong Kong is by Chinese people with family ties in the city. It is estimated that as many as 150 people a day are granted residency.

Of the remaining five percent of Hong Kong residents, there are a relatively high number of representatives from south Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as European, North American, Japanese and Korean residents working in the city's financial sector.


Tourism has become a large part of Hong Kong's service sector economy. Visitor numbers have been rising steadily since the 1980s with over 48 million people visiting Hong Kong in 2012.

The majority of visitors come from mainland China, due largely to the "Individual Visit Scheme" initiative of 2003. In recent years there has been a significant rise in the number of tourists flying long haul from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

There are many things for the tourist to see and do in Hong Kong including Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park, museums, temples, numerous beaches and natural formations, the International Finance Centre and Hong Kong Wetland Park.