Hong Kong handover: Freedoms guaranteed, but for how long?

The Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, guarantees that the territory will continue to be governed in much the same way under Chinese rule as it was during the British administration. It outlines the basis for Deng Xiaoping's "One Country - Two Systems" principle and enshrines in law people's freedoms. However, it also makes provision for the incoming Hong Kong government to override many of those guarantees if there is any threat of "subversion".

The ability of the Hong Kong government and judiciary to make decisions independently of China is set out in article 2 of the Basic Law. This states that Hong Kong will have "a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, in accordance with the provisions of this law". This is supplemented by article 3, which ensures that the government will only be made up of Hong Kong people, not by officials drafted in from the mainland.

The "One Country, Two Systems" principle is outlined in article 5: "The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong SAR [special administrative region], and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years."

Article 27 guarantees freedom of speech and a free press in Hong Kong. However, there has been increasing self-censorship in the local media. This article also says that people will have "freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration" - though subsequently the provisional legislature has reintroduced the old colonial laws which mean that protesters have to seek prior permission from the police.

Article 68 guarantees that the Legislative Council will be elected. However, because of Chris Patten's decision to widen the franchise for the Legislative Council election in 1995, China has decided to scrap the existing Legco. The eventual aim, according to the Basic Law, is "the election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage".

Despite all these promises, article 23 gives the SAR government the opportunity to enact laws which could overturn many of the freedoms outlined in the other parts of the Basic Law. It comes into force if there is a threat of "an act of treason, secession, sedition [or] subversion" against China, or "theft of state secrets". It is also designed "to prohibit foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies".

This has been interpreted by many as giving the new administration wide- ranging powers to deal with its critics.

Cynics will inevitably draw comparisons with the constitution of the People's Republic, which is also littered with pledges and rights that have been disregarded by the government.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?