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The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region at 20: Evaluating the Sino-British Joint Declaration

Tim Summers (Centre for China Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China)

Asian Education and Development Studies

ISSN: 2046-3162

Article publication date: 2 January 2018




The purpose of this paper is to examine the two decades since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty, assessing developments against the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the international agreement under which Hong Kong was transferred from British to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997, and which first set out China’s “basic policies” toward Hong Kong.


The paper’s analysis of developments focuses particularly on areas of controversy, from the extent to which Hong Kong has enjoyed a “high degree of autonomy” to basic rights and freedoms and the legal and judicial systems.


It argues that on the whole, the policies set out in the Joint Declaration have been well implemented: Hong Kong has retained its separate systems since 1997, including rule of law and an independent judiciary, basic rights and freedoms, and separate government and social systems. However, especially since the “occupy” movement of 2014, questions about the sustainability of the “one country, two systems” arrangement have come to the surface.


The paper is distinctive in its assessment of developments against the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.



This paper has benefited from feedback given to presentations at the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on May 16, 2017 and at a conference on “Cultural Integration and Cultural Conflict: Great Power Relations and Hong Kong” at Zhejiang University on May 20, 2017, and many conversations with friends and colleagues past and present in Hong Kong.


Summers, T. (2018), "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region at 20: Evaluating the Sino-British Joint Declaration", Asian Education and Development Studies, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 89-101.



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