HONG KONG (AFP) – More than one in five Hong Kongers would consider emigrating as pessimism grows over the former British colony’s political independence, a survey showed.
Hong Kong is in the midst of a showdown over how residents will select the city’s next leader in 2017, pitting students and other pro-democracy activists against Beijing’s move to assert greater control over the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Residents overall feel pessimistic about the political climate, according to the poll conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and released Sunday. On a scale of zero to 10, with zero being “extremely pessimistic”, the average response was 4.22. Just over 21 percent of respondents said they would consider leaving the city altogether given the current climate.
“Hong Kong is on the brink of another wave of mass migration,” said Sonny Lo, a professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education who is unaffiliated with the poll.
“More and more people will leave in the next few years as the election for the chief executive approaches.”
The city saw waves of migration leading up to the transfer of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997, when tens of thousands left every year.
Emigration also surged in the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, when Beijing violently suppressed protests by thousands of students calling for democracy.
Many went to Canada, Australia and the US, only to return later as the political and economic situation in Hong Kong stabilised.
The Chinese University poll was released before a week-long student strike which began Monday.
“Hong Kongers are inherently hopeful, they strive to make things better,” Hong Kong blogger Joyce Man told AFP.
“But when you put them in a situation where things are becoming increasingly hopeless and they see things around them becoming worse – and at the same time you take away that option of self-determination and that option of making a positive change – then I think that’s very damaging.”
But support for those democracy activists vowing a wave of civil disobedience is by no means universal.
About 46 percent of residents said they do not support the Occupy Central movement, a group threatening to stage major protests in the city’s main business district.
The survey interviewed 1,006 Cantonese-speaking residents over the age of 15 between September 10-17.