Hong Konger’s new secret weapon is their old secret weapon: Economic Freedom

November 15th, 2020

Lone priest standing in front of line of police during Hong Kong protests on August 4th, 2019. Image from dailymail.co.uk.

Loss Of Freedoms In Hong Kong

There have been Hong Kongers have been protesting since Hong Kong rejoined China in 1997, but since March 2019 these protests have increased until they have at times included 26% of the entire country’s population. On June 30, 2020, China passed the Hong Kong National Security Law, and on July 29th, 2020 officials started arresting and imprisoning protesters (starting with 19-year-old Tony Chung). With Hong Kongers no longer being allowed to openly talk about government oppression (remember Tiananmen Square in 1989), Hong Kong's protests suddenly and unceremoniously came to an abrupt end. I personally had online friends from Hong Kong who I haven't heard from since these arrests began, and their accounts have disappeared or gone eerily silent. Few people from Hong Kong seem willing to talk online about what is going on there, now that doing so could get them arrested.

In response to this situation, the United Kingdom offered 2.9 million (of Hong Kong's 7.5 million) residents a permanent home in the UK, resulting in increased housing demand there. Concerned that China is starting to restrict Hong Kong exit visas (as it has already done with mainland China), many of the remaining 4.6 million Hong Kong residents (who don't qualify for the UK's offer) are actively looking for options to flee what was once the most economically free country in the world.

But Hong Kongers have a secret weapon: they have lived in the country which, for many years, held the title of “most economically free country in the world.” Hong Kongers have shown that they can produce great wealth even while living on an island mostly devoid of natural resources. In the past. Hong Kongers’ secret weapon was that they adhered to free-market principles, which gave them the power to prosper anywhere in the world as long as they had the freedom to supply what the market was willing to pay for. But Hong Kongers’ ability to create wealth was not tied to the land that China has reclaimed—even today, they could recreate their past wealth under a “New Hong Kong” elsewhere—if they had the same high levels of economic freedom.

Where to go for economic freedom?

But where can you go to find such high levels of economic freedom? No other national government in the world is willing to let its people enjoy the level of economic freedom that Hong Kong recently had, even when including Special Economic Zones (pockets in countries with more economic freedom than the rest of that country).

However, as FEE readers already know, there is another option that is often overlooked and largely left untapped: Seasteading. We've had the technology to build floating cities (offering freedoms that can't be found anywhere else) out on the high seas beyond the EEZ for decades. For example, this is essentially what mega container ships are, except that their space is being used for cargo, not as living and industrial space.

Why haven’t those who desire economic freedom already taken advantage of the technology available and built an independent, economically free, seasteading nation? I believe it is because life on a seastead is different from life on land. For one thing, space is more expensive. In addition, those who believe that life on the high seas should be like a Caribbean cruise are put off by the knowledge that unless they have the money to make it so, everyday life on a seastead won't resemble the lifestyle of the rich and famous. It will be more similar to what sailors on a naval ship or astronauts on the international space station experience. Living space will be at a premium and people will be there to be industrious and to prosper, not to have a vacation (although medical tourism will probably be big).

This, again, is where Hong Kongers have a specific advantage. As expensive as life on the high seas is in per-square-meter rental costs, it is about on par with what Hong Kongers (which is one of the most expensive cities in the world) are currently spending per square meter per month anyway… so the People of Hong Kong could choose to move to a “New Hong Kong” seastead floating city while continuing to spend about the same each month (or less) on rent per square meter as they are today. Plus without a government regulating housing, people are free to make better use of their own space.

International laws, living-space costs, and time-frame

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) gives countries’ authority to regulate all vessels within their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is 200 nautical miles (370.4 km or 230.16 miles) from shore – or farther if their continental shelf reaches beyond that point. But, as long as you are outside the EEZ, are flying a flag of convenience (that the International Maritime Organization recognizes), and haven’t signed the International Seabed Authority treaty, then you are beyond the reach of any existing country’s legal jurisdiction (except for those maritime regulations of the country’s flag you choose to fly.) This means that a floating city outside the EEZ could provide Hong Kongers with all of the Economic Freedoms Hong Kong has had previously, and Hong Kongers could prosper outside China’s jurisdiction in a New Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, some shipyards are now producing the highest space capacity for the lowest price container ships in the world’s history (adjusting for inflation). With the COVID19 pandemic reducing demand, many shipyards are desperate for new customers, making today an ideal buyer’s market in manufacturing floating structures. China has announced plans to completely take-over of Hong Kong in the next 5 years, the need is urgent, the technology is available, and the price is the per-square-meter (while still high) is the best it has ever been. The time is now for those who are willing to boldly step into this new frontier to claim a better future of economic freedom for both themselves and their children.

Anthony Charles Olsen,
Senior Architect of FreedomHaven.org and its open-design “New Liberty” seasteading city.