Hong Kong vs Vatican City

March 30th, 2014, 7:06 pm PDT by Greg

In CGP Grey‘s excellent video How Many Countries Are There?, he refers to Vatican City as “the least country-like country that’s still a country” and to Hong Kong as “the most country-like country that isn’t.”

I have been rolling this around in my head for a while. He’s right about the basics: nobody would argue that at the moment, the Vatican isn’t a country, or that Hong Kong is. But how country-like are they, really?

Certainly as I remember visiting both, it’s very clear that Hong Kong is a separate country from mainland China, but Vatican City is more of a notable tourist attraction in Rome.

I made a table to highlight the issues. Is Vatican City really a part of Italy? Is Hong Kong really a part of China. Even though the answers are clearly “no” and “yes”, let’s look at the facts…

[I’m using the term “surrounding nation” for brevity below to refer to China and Italy as the nations that physically encasulate Hong Kong and Vatican City, respectively.]

Criteria Hong Kong Vatican City More Country-like
Citizens 7.2M 839 Hong Kong
Land area 1104 km2 0.44 km2 Hong Kong
Controls is own borders? yes no Hong Kong
Issues its own passports? yes yes tie
Has its own currency? yes no Hong Kong
Different government than surrounding nation? yes [1] yes [2] tie
Has an army? no sort of Vatican
Competes in the Olympics yes no Hong Kong
Surrounding nation citizens can visit without a visa? no [3] yes Hong Kong

[1] Elected Legislative Council vs single-party socialist republic.

[2] Absolute non-hereditary monarchy vs unitary parliamentary constitutional republic

[3] Call it an “entry permit” if you want, but if people have to apply for it ahead of time, and then present it with their passport at border control for entry, then that’s a visa in my books.

So there you go. Hong Kong is clearly an independant nation and the situation is much fuzzier for the Vatican.

Except it isn’t. What defines a country is that other countries think it’s a country. Other countries think the Vatican is a county, and agree that Hong Kong isn’t.

Edit 2014-04-09 Apparently this blog post both takes inspiration from and predicts CGP Grey.