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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence