Hong Kong officials are welcoming a report compiled by international researchers that has named Hong Kong the world's freest economy. The "Economic Freedom of the World, 2003 Annual Report" gives Hong Kong top honors.

The report ranks 123 nations, based on survey data gathered in the year 2001. Researchers based their findings on 38 different variables, such as government taxes and spending, business regulation, and the free flow of information, people and capital.

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Antony Leung is welcoming the report, and promising Hong Kong will live up to the designation as the world's freest economy. Mr. Leung says the government will maintain the advantages of the Hong Kong system, including a competitive environment, small government, and a simple, low tax structure.

Hong Kong is trailed closely in the survey by Singapore, the United States, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. China holds the 100th position, and India ranks 73rd. Burma occupies last place. Some countries, like Cuba and North Korea, are not included because data is not available.

The report comes during a debate over personal freedoms that has plunged the government into its biggest crisis since the former British colony was returned to China six years ago.

On July first, half a million people marched in the streets to protest proposed anti-subversion laws, which many believe will threaten civil liberties. Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa delayed passage of the legislation Monday, but pressure is increasing on Mr. Tung to step aside.

Because the data in the report is from 2001, it predates the current controversy. It is unclear to what extent the current political turmoil - or the possible passage of anti-subversion laws - might affect perception of Hong Kong in future surveys.