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Located at China's doorstep along the Pearl River Delta, Hong Kong has long served as a bridge between mainland China and the West. More than 150 years of British colonial rule (beginning in the 1840s) endowed the city with a uniquely liberal economy, a Western regulatory system, and strong rule of law that differentiate it from many other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. These characteristics helped to transform the city into a leading reexport and financial center in the past five decades, building on connections into the mainland's lucrative market and industry. Nearly 8 million people reside in the special region's 687 square kilometer (427 square mile) territory, making it the world's most densely populated city with a high level of ethnic diversity.
Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong was guaranteed economic and political autonomy under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle for 50 years after the handover to China in 1997. But years of attempts by Beijing to increase its political control over the city and the consequences of deeper economic integration have eroded that status. This, coupled with the city's deep-rooted socio-economic issues, contribute to a rising tide of Hong Kong nativism manifesting as pro-independence advocacy, particularly among the younger generation. As the city struggles to diversify its economy beyond the financial and retail industry, its growing political polarization and radicalization combined with concerns about Beijing's encroachment could threaten Hong Kong's economic prospects at a time when mainland cities and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region are preparing to seize new opportunities.
Ukraine is the quintessential borderland state. The country borders three former Soviet states (Russia, Belarus and Moldova) and four countries in the European Union (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania). Ukraine also has a coastline along the Black Sea to the south. Ukraine sits on the Northern European Plain, the area that has historically served as an invasion superhighway going east and west. Beyond its strategic location, Ukraine's geography has only facilitated such invasions. The country consists of flat and fertile plains, with the exception of the Carpathian Mountain range that arches into the far west of the country. But even these mountains can be penetrated and have not posed a significant barrier to invasion. Given such lack of barriers, Ukraine's wide-open geography is inextricably linked to that of Russia. Ukraine's agricultural and industrial belts have traditionally been integrated with Russia's, and Ukraine serves as the primary transit state for Russian energy exports to Europe. Due to its location and abundance of agricultural and mineral resources, Ukraine has been contested between regional powers for centuries. This competition is currently playing out in an extreme form today, with a Western-backed government confronting a Russian-backed uprising in eastern Ukraine. Further complicating the situation is the fact that Ukraine has several population and political cores, including Lviv in the west, Kiev in the center and the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. These different cores make administering Ukraine difficult. The current crisis in Ukraine is therefore merely the latest iteration of the country's internal divisions and the long-standing East-West conflict over the country. Maintaining sovereignty and unity in the face of this competition is Ukraine's primary geographic challenge.