Port of Hong Kong
Review and History

The Port of Hong Kong lies on the coast of southern China on the Kowloon Peninsula off the South China Sea about 36 kilometers southeast of the Port of Huadu and 34 kilometers southwest of the Port of Yantian. Originally ceded by China to the United Kingdom in 1898, the Port of Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. Hong Kong covers over 1.1 thousand square kilometers and includes the adjacent islets in the South China Sea. In 2005, almost seven million people lived in the Hong Kong special administrative region of China.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Viewed from Kowloon
Photo by Jakub Halun

The Port of Hong Kong is one of the leading financial centers in the world. With a highly capitalist economy, it contains one of the biggest concentrations of corporate headquarters in the region. The Port of Hong Kong's stock exchange is the world's sixth largest. Often cited as the best example of laissez-faire capitalism, the government follows a policy of "positive non-intervention" that leaves the economy to market forces and the private sector.

After World War II, the Port of Hong Kong industrialized quickly, manufacturing products for export. In the 1980s, it just as quickly transformed into a service-based economy. The Port of Hong Kong suffered from the 1998 Asian financial crisis and by the outbreak of SARS in 2003, but it has since recovered. With few natural resources and scant land for agriculture, the Port of Hong Kong depends on imports of food and raw materials. Much of the Port of Hong Kong's exports come from mainland China.

Port History

Archaeological evidence found at over 20 sites reveals that people from North China settled the Port of Hong Kong area in the 2nd Millennium BC. In the 1st Century BC, Cantonese settled there, and the Hakka and Hoklo came to the Port of Hong Kong in the following centuries. The last struggles between the failing Ming Dynasty and the thriving Manchu Qing Dynasty took place in the Port of Hong Kong.

In the middle 1800s, Hong Kong Island was home to a small fishing village reputed to be a hideaway for pirates. In 1821, British merchants started using the Port of Hong Kong harbor for opium-laden vessels. They quickly recognized the potential of this deep sheltered harbor for commerce and as a strategic point on the main trade routes to the Far East.

China ceded Hong Kong Island to the British after the first Opium War; however, the British did not have complete control of the Port of Hong Kong under the Treaty of Nanjing. The second Opium War in the middle 1800s forced China to relinquish Kowloon Peninsula to the British. Then, under the Convention of 1898, the British leased the New Territories and 235 islands for a period of 99 years that ended in 1997. In 1861, the small fishing village had grown to a population of 120 thousand. By the turn of the century, over 300 thousand people lived in the Port of Hong Kong.

The Port of Hong Kong was long a refuge for people (and money) leaving China and a stopping point for rural people traveling to Southeast Asia, the free flow depending on economic and political conditions in China. When the Republic of China was created in 1912, a new nationalist spirit sought to end foreign treaty privileges, creating economic problems for Britain. The nationalistic campaign resulted in strikes and conflict in the Port of Hong Kong in the 1920s.

In 1937, the Sino-Japanese War made the Port of Hong Kong a refuge again, and thousands of Chinese fled the advancing Japanese. When World War II began, the British colony became a vulnerable target, and the Japanese attacked and occupied the Port of Hong Kong in 1941. During the war, commerce declined dramatically, food was limited, and Hong Kong residents began to escape to inland China. The population of 1.6 million in 1941 was reduced to around 650 thousand in 1945 when the war ended.

In August 1945, the British army returned to the Port of Hong Kong, and the local government was re-established in 1946. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese and foreign residents returned to the Port of Hong Kong, joined by refugees from China fleeing the post-war Chinese Civil War between the Nationalist and Communist armies.

In 1951, the United Nations imposed a trade embargo on China and North Korea, the commercial life and trading position of the Port of Hong Kong was seriously damaged. Immigrant capitalists began to develop light industries that provided badly-needed employment. These industries served as the basis for further industrialization, but they were based on cheap labor and poor working conditions.

In the early 1960s, labor disputes and civil unrest began to grow, and serious riots broke out in the Port of Hong Kong in 1967 that led to political demonstrations inspired by China's Cultural Revolution. As the 1960s ended, working and living conditions began to improve as labor laws, government housing, and public works programs brought relief for the suffering workers.

At the same time, new high-tech industries began to grow, and the Port of Hong Kong's financial markets thrived. In 1973, the stock market collapsed, and billions of dollars left the Port of Hong Kong. Later in the decade, as relations with China got better, the economy began to recover.

By the late 1970s, anticipation of the end of the British lease created concerns about the Port of Hong Kong's future. The governments of Great Britain and China began to discuss the transfer in 1979, and formal negotiations began in 1982. After two years, the Chinese-British Joint Declaration was signed agreeing that China would receive the Port of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. Discussions about how the Port of Hong Kong would be governed continued for many years until China's National People's Congress ratified the law in 1990 that established the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the direct control of the central Chinese government.

After 1997, the economy of the Port of Hong Kong continued to experience steady growth, although it was heavily dependent on world economic conditions. Economic ties with the Chinese mainland grew stronger. Major investments were made in the transportation infrastructure, including new bridges, roads, and a new airport. Political pressure grew for democratic reforms to the 1990 law, and Beijing announced its intention to allow council members to be directly elected in 2012.

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