Hong Kong brief

Political Overview

Hong Kong, officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, is a former British territory that reverted to Chinese sovereignty on 1 July 1997. Hong Kong is governed by the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (the Basic Law), passed by China's National People's Congress (NPC) in 1990. The Basic Law serves as Hong Kong's 'mini-constitution'. It provides for independent executive, legislative and judicial powers, and gives the territory a high degree of autonomy under the principle of 'one country, two systems' in all areas except defence and foreign affairs (for which China is responsible).

Hong Kong can conclude and implement agreements with states, regions and international organisations. It does so in areas such as the economy, trade, shipping, fishing regulation, communications, tourism, culture and sport. Hong Kong is a member of the World Trade Organisation (as a separate customs territory) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Chief Executive

The Basic Law designates a system of governance led by a Chief Executive (CE) and an Executive Council, with a two-tiered system of representative government and an independent judiciary.  The CE makes policy decisions and has the power to initiate legislation. According to the Basic Law, the CE is 'accountable to the Central People's Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region'.

The CE is appointed by Beijing after election by an Election Committee, whose 1,200 members are themselves elected through a limited franchise from a number of professional, business and community bodies, Hong Kong deputies to the NPC, and Hong Kong members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Chief Executives are appointed for a period of five years. On 1 July 2017, Mrs Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was sworn as Hong Kong's fourth CE.

Legislative Council

The major function of the Legislative Council (LegCo) is to enact laws, examine and approve budgetary matters, monitor the government's performance, and debate issues of public interest. The LegCo also endorses the appointment and removal of judges of the Court of Final Appeal. It cannot initiate bills involving government expenditure, limiting its role in policy development. Its meetings are open to the public.

Elections for the sixth LegCo took place on 4 September 2016. The LegCo is currently on its 6th term with all 70 members elected for a term of four years. Of the LegCo's 70 seats, 35 are directly elected by voters (30 from geographical constituencies and five from District Council 'super-seat' functional constituencies) with the remaining 35 elected indirectly by the members of traditional functional constituencies representing occupational and other special interest groups.

Currently no institutions of government in Hong Kong are elected through universal suffrage, although universal suffrage in Chief Executive and LegCo elections is the "ultimate aim" of constitutional development under the Basic Law.


Hong Kong's legal system is based on the English Common Law. Under the Basic Law, the judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches of government. The Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong replaced the British Privy Council as the highest appellate court after Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. China's National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) has the power of final interpretation of the Basic Law. The NPCSC has exercised this power on five occasions concerning the right of abode (1999), universal suffrage (2004), the term of office of the Chief Executive (2005), state immunity (2011) and lawmakers' oath of allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China (2016).

As Hong Kong is Australia's most popular business base in north-east Asia, we have a substantial stake in the integrity of Hong Kong's legal system. Distinguished Australian jurists have been appointed to the Court of Final Appeal as non-permanent judges, including former Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, James Spigelman and former justices of the High Court, Sir Francis Gerard Brennan, Sir Daryl Dawson, Robert French, Anthony Murray Gleeson, William Gummow, Sir Anthony Mason and Michael McHugh. Messrs French, Gleeson, Gummow and Spigelman are currently appointed to the Court of Final Appeal.

Economic Overview

Hong Kong occupies an area smaller than the Australian Capital Territory and has a population of 7.4 million, about one-third of Australia's. In GDP (nominal terms) it stands as the 34th-largest economy in the world at nearly US$341.7 billion in 2017.

Hong Kong's economic growth and prosperity have been underpinned by an open trade and investment regime complemented by a highly educated and flexible workforce and a transparent legal and regulatory environment. The city has evolved into an efficient global and regional transport and trade hub.

The free movement of capital in and out of Hong Kong has accelerated the city's development as an international commercial and financial centre. A strong institutional framework including the rule of law has attracted a number of important corporate headquarters to Hong Kong. It has emerged as a major provider of services to China and is the mainland's designated centre for the internationalisation of the Renminbi (China's currency).

Hong Kong's economic integration with mainland China developed through the 1980s with the establishment of China's first Special Economic Zone in Shenzhen, across the border, transforming a fishing village into a city of nearly 13 million people. Investment by Hong Kong industrialists across the Pearl River Delta (PRD), arching from Hong Kong in the East through Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhongshan and Zhuhai to Macau in the West, has been one of the main drivers of China's rapid economic modernisation.

Since 2004, the China-Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) has accelerated integration between Hong Kong and the PRD, giving favourable treatment to Hong Kong manufactures and services. In July 2017, Hong Kong signed two economic agreements with the Central Government under CEPA, including an Investment Agreement and an Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation. At the same time, Hong Kong and the Central Government also signed a Framework Agreement on Deepening Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Cooperation in the Development of the Greater Bay Area. Hong Kong is part of the Greater Bay Area, which is a Chinese government scheme to link 11 cities of Guangdong's Pearl River Delta (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing) with Hong Kong and Macau into an integrated economic and business hub.

The lack of discrimination against foreign-owned companies has allowed Australian companies to benefit from CEPA and gain greater access to mainland China. Infrastructure projects such as a high-speed rail link from Hong Kong to Guangzhou via Shenzhen which opened in September 2018 and a bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, which opened in October 2018, should improve transport links with the region.

According to the Hong Kong government, Hong Kong's economy grew by 3.8 per cent in 2017, higher than its average trend growth rate of 2.9 per cent between 2007 and 2016. The unemployment rate was 2.9 per cent, a 20-year low. Inflation remained steady at 1.7 per cent, the sixth consecutive year of easing.

Bilateral Relations

Australia has extensive and enduring interests in Hong Kong built on strong trade and investment connections and close people to people links. The Australian Government supports Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy as provided for in the Basic Law and in accordance with China's policy of observing 'one country, two systems'.

The Australian Consulate-General represents the Australian Government in Hong Kong. In Australia, the Hong Kong Government is represented through the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office based in Sydney.

Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Hong Kong on 11-12 November 2017. This was the first official visit by an Australian Prime Minister since 1984, and helped to further strengthen cooperation between Australia and Hong Kong on trade, investment, innovation, law enforcement and combating transnational crime. 

At an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China in July 2017, then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke about the importance of bilateral relations between Australia and Hong Kong.

People to people links

Hong Kong has one of the largest Australian communities abroad with around 100,000 Australians residing in Hong Kong. Around 96,000 people born in Hong Kong live in Australia.

Education cooperation between Australia and Hong Kong continues to strengthen. In 2016, there were 119 formal agreements between Australia and Hong Kong, covering student and staff exchange, academic and research collaboration, and study abroad.

In 2017, Hong Kong ranked 10th as a source location for international students to Australia. In 2017, more than 14,000 students from Hong Kong studied in Australia across all sectors, an increase of 3 per cent compared to 2016. From 2002 to 2017, there were almost 138,000 higher education course enrolments and more than 42,000 VET course enrolments by students from Hong Kong.

In 2016, Hong Kong ranked as Australia's 16th most popular overseas study destination for Australian students.

Hong Kong was one of the four host locations that participated in the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan in 2014. The New Colombo Plan is a signature initiative of the Australian Government, which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region. By the end of 2020, the NCP will have supported around 1,500 Australian undergraduates to undertake New Colombo Plan experiences in Hong Kong, across diverse fields including business, communications, education, engineering, health, science and urban design. 

The Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Awards represent a unique partnership between the Australian Government and Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Group to support educational exchange between undergraduate and postgraduate students in Australia and Asia. Since 2004, over 2,600 students have been provided with scholarship opportunities in the region through these Awards, including from Hong Kong to Australia, and from Australia to Hong Kong.

The Australia-China Council (ACC) was established by the Australian Government in 1978 to promote people-to-people links and to enhance mutual cooperation with China. The ACC has supported several projects in and with Hong Kong. For example, supported by ACC funding, the Queensland Youth Symphony performed in Hong Kong with local young musicians in 2017. In the same year, Australian-based Monash University's Institute of Railway Technology delivered workshops on cutting-edge railway technologies in collaboration with Hong Kong's MTR Corporation.

Bilateral trade and investment

The Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement and a new bilateral Investment Agreement were signed on 26 March 2019. The FTA and the Investment Agreement together strengthen Australia's relationship with one of its most significant trading partners.  The FTA locks in zero tariffs for Australian exporters and provides Australian service suppliers with guaranteed access into key sectors of Hong Kong's growing services market. The Investment Agreement will protect investors on both sides, including providing for a minimum standard of treatment, a requirement to pay compensation in certain circumstances where an investment is expropriated, and protection against discrimination. For more information about the FTA, see Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement.

Australia and Hong Kong have a longstanding trade relationship. Hong Kong was Australia's twelfth largest trading partner overall in 2017, with total two-way trade in goods and services worth $18.8 billion. In 2017, Hong Kong was Australia's sixth most important destination for merchandise exports ($12 billion) and seventh-largest services market ($3.0 billion). Australia's major merchandise exports were gold, edible products and preparations, telecommunications equipment and parts, and fruit and nuts.

Australia is an important source of high-quality food and beverages for Hong Kong's hotel and restaurant sector — featured exports include wines, fresh and chilled seafood, premium fruit, nuts, vegetables and dairy products. Hong Kong's strategy to become a wine trading and distribution centre for the Asian region presents opportunities for Australian wine producers and for providers of wine-related services, such as storage and auctioning.

Australia's major imports from Hong Kong in 2017 were telecommunications equipment and parts, pearls and gems, jewellery, edible products and preparations and printed matter. Bilateral services trade with Hong Kong is centred on transport, recreational travel and business services.

Hong Kong is the fifth largest investor in Australia, with total foreign investment amounting to $116.6 billion in 2017. Investment sectors include utilities, infrastructure, transport, telecommunications, resources, clean energy and hotels, and increasingly agri-food, major infrastructure and health services. Hong Kong businesses see Australia as a safe, reliable and open investment destination with a well-performing and well-managed economy.

Hong Kong is also an attractive investment destination for Australia. It is the tenth largest destination for total Australian investment abroad (by stock), worth $47.4 billion in 2017. Sectors of interest include banking and finance, construction and engineering, health and medical services, telecommunications, insurance, legal services, education, information technology, consulting, logistics, and transport.

Hong Kong has Australia's largest commercial presence in Asia. The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong is Australia's largest offshore Chamber of Commerce. Australian businesses are drawn to Hong Kong because of the transparency and efficiency of its regulatory environment, the integrity of Hong Kong's financial markets and the rule of law. Hong Kong's location gives Australian companies an important base for commercial engagement with China and neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia.

For more information about business opportunities in Hong Kong, see Information on doing business and opportunities in Hong Kong

Recent high level visits

November 2018: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Simon Birmingham visited Hong Kong to finalise Australia-Hong Kong FTA negotiations. He met with Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau, AustCham Hong Kong board members senior tourism, business, investor and philanthropic representatives in Hong Kong.

July 2018: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Michael McCormack MP visited Hong Kong to participate in the inaugural Virgin flight from Sydney to Hong Kong.  He met with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Financial Secretary Paul Chan, Chairman of the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council Vincent Lo, and major infrastructure investors.

July 2018: The Australian Parliamentary Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities visited Hong Kong to learn about its approach to the development of rapid, mass and automated transportation and digitally connected smart cities.  

May 2018: Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, attended the Vinexpo Hong Kong 2018 show.  She also met with Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan, and agricultural investors and goods importers.

March 2018: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Steven Ciobo MP visited Hong Kong to speak at the 2018 Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference and Foreign Correspondent's Club on trade and investment issues.  He also met with the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau and Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Dr Bernard Chan, and regional investors and business leaders.

January 2018: Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP visits Hong Kong for the 2018 Asian Financial Forum.  She also met with Financial Secretary Paul Chan, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau, and Chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission Carlson Tong, and business representatives.

November 2017: Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP visited Hong Kong and met with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's financial regulators, business representatives and entrepreneurs, and members of the Australian community in Hong Kong. 

October 2017: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Steven Ciobo MP visited Hong Kong for the 2018 Hotel Investment Conference Asia-Pacific, and met with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, and business representatives. 

July 2017: Infrastructure and Transport Minister, the Hon Darren Chester MP visited Hong Kong where he met Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Frank Chan, representatives of transport companies, and a number of regional infrastructure investors and business leaders.

July 2017: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Steven Ciobo MP visited Hong Kong and met with his counterpart, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau.

May 2017: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Steven Ciobo MP visited Hong Kong to launch negotiations for an Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement with his then counterpart, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So. ​

Last Updated: 28 March 2019