Property rights are the most basic of all human rights, the most basic economic institution for people to maintain their own existence. Little is it known that the HKSAR government can expropriate your house to build huge projects meant to accommodate state-sponsored immigrants. The practice is called chaak (lit. “to tear apart”) and it is very common in China, where property rights are conspicuous by their absence. In 2007 the Chief Executive announced the so-called “New Development Areas” plan (NDA), meant to follow the previous Planning and Development Study on North East New Territories commissioned in 1998 that stopped in 2003 due to low housing demand in the previous years. This plan targets three locations of Hong Kong’s New Territories, Kwu Tung North, Fanling North, and Ping Che/Ta Kwu Ling, all of them beautiful natural areas with historical sites that will not survive the project.
In order to accommodate Chinese immigrants, rich tycoons, and Chinese investors who will never live in the city, the government is planning to move all the people of these areas to… well, who cares, right? Just move them out so the “new Hongkongers” can move in. Of course, this is not only a wise, but also a generous government, so the old residents will receive a compensation for their loss of property. They may even afford a “cage house” not far from their hometown!
Protests in areas designated for expropriation have been as soundless as media coverage. One of the most recent stories of land expropriation is that of the Ma Shi Po village, where four people were arrested for attempting to stop security guards from fencing off the community farm. There is more to this story than meets the eye. On the one hand, Henderson Land needed to acquire land before the end of this year in order to be eligible for a government land exchange program. On the other hand, Hong Kong already imports 90% of food from China. Destroying local farms increases dependency on the policies of the People’s Republic of China’s state-owned enterprises that will provide these services instead. It also takes away Hong Kong’s autonomy and legitimizes the political discourse of the impossibility of its independence (see the third point). Given that Hong Kong has a 30% of unused and undeveloped barren land, it is not clear why the freest society in the world should apply restrictions for citizens to develop their own lands. Unless there is a hidden political agenda, of course.
Banners protesting against the new development plan of the northern area of the New Territories, in the Kwu Tung and Fan Ling.
Likewise, temples and religious sites are the subject of expropriation. According to the Chinese Temples Ordinance of the Chinese Temples Committee issued on March, 2015, “properties of all Chinese temples [are] to be under the absolute control of the CTC, and any person who possesses or controls the property of any Chinese temple [ought] to transfer such property to the Secretary for Home Affairs Incorporated”. Right now, this ordinance only affects a reduced number of temples. It is however quite surprising that, whereas property rights usually trump heritage conservation (which may be as sad as it is fair), the opposite happens when the HKSAR government deals with land development –it trumps property rights and heritage conservation.