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The Sino–British Joint Declaration is an international bilateral announcement signed between the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 19 December 1984 in Beijing.[1] The Declaration stipulates the sovereign and administrative arrangement over Hong Kong after 1 July 1997, when the lease of the New Territories was set to expire according to the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory.

Sino–British Joint Declaration
Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong
Signed19 December 1984
LocationBeijing, China
Effective27 May 1985
ConditionSignatories to confirm
SignatoriesZhao Ziyang, Premier of the State Council
Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister
Parties People's Republic of China
 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Sino-British Joint Declaration
Traditional Chinese中英聯合聲明
Simplified Chinese中英联合声明
Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People's Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong
Traditional Chinese中華人民共和國政府和大不列顛及北愛爾蘭聯合王國政府關於香港問題的聯合聲明
Simplified Chinese中华人民共和国政府和大不列颠及北爱尔兰联合王国政府关于香港问题的联合声明

The Declaration was signed by Premier Zhao Ziyang of the State Council of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) on behalf of their respective governments. It entered into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification on 27 May 1985, and was registered by the PRC and UK governments at the United Nations on 12 June 1985. In the Joint Declaration, the PRC Government stated that it had decided to resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong (including Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories) with effect from 1 July 1997, and the UK Government declared that it would hand over Hong Kong to the PRC with effect from 1 July 1997. The PRC Government also declared its basic policies regarding Hong Kong in the document.

In accordance with the "one country, two systems" principle agreed between the UK and the PRC, the socialist system of PRC would not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and Hong Kong's previous capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years until 2047. The Joint Declaration provides that these basic policies should be stipulated in the Hong Kong Basic Law and that the socialist system and socialist policies shall not be practised in HKSAR. However, with the start of the Umbrella Revolution in 2014, a campaign against the perceived infringements in the HKSAR by mainland China, the British Foreign Office announced that Chinese officials now treat the Joint Declaration as "void".



Great Britain acquired Hong Kong Island in 1842, Kowloon Peninsula in 1860, and leased the New Territories in 1898 for 99 years.

The background of the Sino–British Joint Declaration was the pending expiration of the lease of the New Territories on 1 July 1997.[2] The lease was negotiated between the UK and the Guangxu Emperor of China, and was for a period of 99 years starting from 1 July 1898 under the Second Convention of Peking. At the time of the lease signing, Hong Kong Island had already been ceded to the UK in perpetuity under the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 after the First Opium War, and the southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula as well as the Stonecutters Island had also been ceded to the UK in perpetuity under the Convention of Beijing in 1860 after the Second Opium War.

In the early 1980s the territory and its business community grew concerned about the future of Hong Kong.[3] These concerns, regarding the status of property rights and contracts, were spurred by political uncertainty surrounding the scheduled reversion of the New Territories to the PRC.[4] In March 1979, the Governor of Hong Kong, Murray MacLehose, visited Beijing. During this visit, informal talks about the future of Hong Kong began. Upon his return, MacLehose attempted to allay investors' worries about the scheduled reversion, but reiterated that the PRC asserted its intention to regain sovereignty over Hong Kong.[4] The first formal negotiations began with chairman Deng Xiaoping of the Central Military Commission during the visit of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, to China in September 1982.[4]

During the following discussions, where the Governor of Hong Kong took part in every round of formal talks as a member of the British delegation, it became clear that the continuation of British administration after 1997 would not be acceptable to China in any form.[5] The Chinese government has consistently taken the view that the whole of Hong Kong should be Chinese territory, due to them being acquired through the inequality of historical treaties.[6] As a result, the two sides discussed possible measures besides continued British administration, and came up with the concept of Hong Kong as a Special Administration Region of the PRC. In April 1984, the two sides concluded the initial discussion of these matters, and arranged that Hong Kong would retain a high degree of autonomy under Chinese sovereignty with the preservation of the maintained lifestyle in Hong Kong.[5] By 18 September 1984, both sides had approved the English and Chinese texts of the documents and the associated Exchange of Memoranda.

The signing of the Joint Declaration caused some controversy in Britain because UK's Conservative Party Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was agreeing with the China's Communist government represented by Deng Xiaoping. However, political analysts believe she had no choice to agree because "the alternative to acceptance of the present agreement [was] to have no agreement",[7] an unacceptable situation considering Britain's weak negotiating position. As Hong Kong was not militarily defensible and relied on Guangdong province in mainland China to supply most of its food and water,[7] the economic feasibility of dividing Hong Kong (with Britain retaining control of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon while the New Territories returning to the PRC) was impracticable. Furthermore, there was an urgency to make an agreement because there were fears that without a treaty the economy in Hong Kong would collapse in the 1980s. Concerns about land ownership in the leased New Territories also added to the problem. Although discussions on the future of Hong Kong had started in the late 1970s, the final timing of the Joint Declaration was more affected by property and economic factors rather than geopolitical necessities.[7]

Announcement contentsEdit

Joint DeclarationEdit

The Sino–British Joint Declaration consists of eight paragraphs, three Annexes about the Basic Policies regarding Hong Kong, the Sino–British Joint Liaison Group and the Land Leases as well as the two Memoranda of the two sides. Each part has the same status, and "The whole makes up a formal international agreement, legally binding in all its parts. An international agreement of this kind is the highest form of commitment between two sovereign states."[8] Within these declarations the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be directly under the authority of the Central People's Government of the PRC and shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy except for foreign and defence affairs. It shall be allowed to have executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The Basic Law explains that in addition to Chinese, English may also be used in organs of government and that apart from the national flag and national emblem of the PRC the HKSAR may use a regional flag and emblem of its own. It shall maintain the capitalist economic and trade systems previously practised in Hong Kong. The third paragraph lists the PRC's basic policies regarding Hong Kong:

  • National unity and territorial integrity shall be upheld and a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) shall be established.[9]
  • "The [HKSAR] will be directly under the authority of the Central People's Government of the [PRC and] will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs." "[10]
  • "The [HKSAR] will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in Hong Kong will remain basically unchanged." [11]
  • "The Government of the [HKSAR] will be composed of local inhabitants. The chief executive will be appointed by the Central People's Government on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally. Principal officials will be nominated by the chief executive of the [HKSAR] for appointment by the Central People's Government. Chinese and foreign nationals previously working in the public and police services in the government departments of Hong Kong may remain in employment. British and other foreign nationals may also be employed to serve as advisers or hold certain public posts in government departments of the [HKSAR]."[12]
  • "The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the [HKSAR]. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law." [13]
  • "The [HKSAR] will retain the status of a free port and a separate customs territory. It can continue the free trade policy, including free movement of goods and capital." [14]
  • "The [HKSAR] will retain the status of an international financial centre" with free flow of capital and the Hong Kong dollar remaining freely convertible. The HKSAR may authorise designated banks to issue or continue to issue Hong Kong currency under statutory authority.[15]
  • It will have independent finances with its own budgets and final accounts, but reporting it to the Central People's Government. Additionally, "the Central People's Government will not levy taxes on [it]." [16]
  • "The HKSAR may establish mutually beneficial economic relations with the United Kingdom and other countries [...]" [17]
  • The name used for international relations will be 'Hong Kong, China'. In doing so it may maintain and develop economic and cultural relations and agreements with states, regions and relevant international organisations on its own and it may issue travel documents for Hong Kong. International agreements to which the PRC is not a party but Hong Kong is may remain implemented in the HKSAR.
  • The government of the HKSAR is responsible for the maintenance of public order. Military forces sent by the Central People's Government, stationed in HKSAR, for the purpose of defence shall not interfere in the internal affairs in the HKSAR.
  • Those basic policies will be stipulated in a Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the PRC by the National People's Congress and will remain unchanged for 50 years.

The Government of the United Kingdom will be responsible for the administration of Hong Kong with the object of maintaining and preserving its economic prosperity and social stability until 30 June 1997 and the Government of the PRC will give its co-operation in this connection.

Furthermore, this declaration regulates the right of abode, those of passports and immigration. All Chinese nationals who were born or who have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of seven years or more are qualified to obtain permanent identity cards. Those cardholders can also get a passport of the HKSAR, which is valid for all states and regions. But the entry into the HKSAR of persons from other parts of China shall continue to be regulated in accordance with the present practice.

The PRC's basic policies regarding Hong Kong (Annex I)Edit

This Annex is called the Elaboration by the government of the People's Republic of China of its basic policies regarding Hong Kong. It is partly mentioned in the summary above and deals in detail with the way Hong Kong will work after 1 July 1997. The annexe consist of following sections: (1) Constitutional arrangements and government structure; (II) the laws; (III) the judicial system; (IV) the public service; (V) the financial system; (VI) the economic system and external economic relations; (VII) the monetary system, (VIII) shipping, (IX) civil aviation; (X) education; (XI) foreign affairs; (XII) defence, security and public order; (XIII) basic rights and freedoms; (XIV) right of abode, travel and immigration.

Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (Annex II)Edit

Annex II set up the Sino–British Joint Liaison Group. That Group came into force at 1 July 1988 and continued its work until 1 January 2000. Its functions were

a) to conduct consultations on the implementation of the Joint Declaration
b) to discuss matters relating to the smooth transfer of government in 1997
c) to exchange information and conduct consultations on such subjects as may be agreed by the two sides.[18]

This Group was an organ for liaison and not of power, where each side could send up to 20 supporting staff members. It should meet at least once in each of the three locations (Beijing, London and Hong Kong) in each year. From 1 July 1988 onwards it was based in Hong Kong. It should also assist the HKSAR to maintain and develop economic and cultural relations and conclude agreements on these matters with states, regions and relevant international organisations and could therefore set up specialist sub-groups. Between 1985 and 2000 the Joint Liaison Group held 47 plenary meetings whereof 18 were held in Hong Kong, 15 in London and 14 in Beijing.

One of the main achievements had been to ensure the continuity of the independent judiciary in Hong Kong, including agreements in the areas of law of Merchant Shipping, Civil Aviation, Nuclear Material, Whale Fisheries, Submarine Telegraph, Outer Space and many others. Furthermore, it agreed to a network of bilateral agreements between Hong Kong and other countries. Within those agreements were reached on the continued application of about 200 international conventions to the HKSAR after 30 June 1997. Hong Kong should also continue to participate in various international organisations after the handover.

Land Leases (Annex III)Edit

According to the Land Leases all leased lands, granted by the British Hong Kong Government, which extend beyond 30 June 1997 and all rights in relation to such leases shall continue to be recognised and protected under the law of the HKSAR for a period expiring not longer than 30 June 2047. Furthermore, a Land Commission shall be established with equal number of officials from the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the PRC which was dissolved on 30 June 1997. This commission was established in 1985 and met in Hong Kong for 35 formal meetings and agreed on 26 legal documents, within the granting of the land required for the new airport at Chek Lap Kok in 1994.

United Kingdom MemorandumEdit

In this memorandum the Government of the United Kingdom declared that all persons who hold British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTCs) through an affiliation with Hong Kong would cease to be BDTCs on 1 July 1997. After the declaration, the Hong Kong Act 1985 and the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order, 1986 created the category British National (Overseas). BDTCs were allowed to apply for British National (Overseas) status until July 1997, but this status does not in of itself grant the right of abode anywhere, including the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. After the handover, most former BDTCs became citizens of the People's Republic of China. Any who were ineligible for PRC citizenship and who had not applied for BN(O) status automatically became British Overseas citizens.

Chinese MemorandumEdit

"Under the National Law of the PRC, all Hong Kong Chinese compatriots, whether they are holders of the 'British Dependent Territories Citizens' Passport' or not, are Chinese nationals." Those people who use travel documents issued by the Government of the United Kingdom are permitted to use them for the purpose of travelling to other states and regions, but they will not be entitled to British consular protection in the HKSAR and other parts of the PRC.


Early yearsEdit

After signing of the declaration, the Sino–British Joint Liaison Group was set up according to the Annex II of the declaration.

The transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong (referred to as the "return" or "handover" by the Chinese and British press respectively) occurred as scheduled on 1 July 1997. Since the return just a few things changed, such as the flag of Hong Kong and the Prince of Wales Building being renamed into the People's Liberation Army Building. Post boxes were repainted green, as per the practice in China. Street names have remained unchanged and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club has kept its "Royal" prefix, although the Hong Kong Jockey Club and other institutions have given up this title.[19]

After the Asian financial crisis in 1997 the Hong Kong measures were taken with the full co-operation of the Chinese government. This did not mean that the Chinese government dictated what to do and therefore still follows the points of the declaration.[20]

Despite this autonomy, the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region sometimes sought interference from the Chinese government. For example, in 1999 the government of the HKSAR asked China's State Council to seek an interpretation by the National People's Congress Standing Committee on a provision in the Basic Law. The original decision reached by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal was seen as problematic by the HKSAR government as it would have allowed up to 1.6 million mainland immigrants to enter Hong Kong. The Chinese authorities obliged and the Hong Kong court's judgment was overturned, stopping the potential immigration.[21]

Pressures from the mainland government were also apparent, for example in 2000, after the election of pro-independence candidate Chen Shui-bian as Taiwan's president, a senior mainland official in Hong Kong warned journalists not to report the news. Another senior official advised businessmen not to do business with pro-independence Taiwanese.[21]

With this and other changes,[21] ten years after the return, in 2007, The Guardian wrote that on the one hand, "nothing has changed since the handover to China 10 years ago", but this was in comparison to the situation before the last governor Chris Patten had introduced democratic reforms three years before the handover. A chance for democracy had been lost as Hong Kong had just begun to develop three vital elements for a western-style democracy (the rule of law, official accountability and a political class outside the one-party system) but the Sino–British deal had prevented any of these changes to continue.[22][opinion]

Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee stated in a conference in Beijing 2007, that "Hong Kong had considerable autonomy only because the central government had chosen to authorize that autonomy".[23]

2010s developmentsEdit

In 2014, against the backdrop of Umbrella Revolution, the British Foreign Affairs Select Committee was banned by China from entering Hong Kong on their planned visit in December as part of their inquiry into progress of the implementation of the Sino–British Joint Declaration. In an emergency parliamentary debate about the unprecedented ban, the chairman on the committee Richard Ottaway revealed that Chinese officials consider the Joint Declaration "now void and only covered the period from the signing in 1984 until the handover in 1997."[24]

In 2016, Caroline Wilson, who was the British Consul-General to Hong Kong and Macao, said the Causeway Bay Books disappearances was a violation of the Joint declaration.[25]

In July 2017, when British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged democratic progress in Hong Kong,[26][27] China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the legally binding Hong Kong handover treaty with Britain 'as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance,' and that 'It is not at all binding for the central government's management over Hong Kong. The UK has no sovereignty, no power to rule and no power to supervise Hong Kong after the handover.'[28][29][30][31][32] In response the British Foreign office said: "It is a legally binding treaty, registered with the UN and continues to be in force. As a co-signatory, the UK government is committed to monitoring its implementation closely." Johnson restated Britain's commitment to Hong Kong is enshrined in the "treaty" that was "just as strong today" as it was 20 years ago.[29][32] In August 2019, US Vice President Mike Pence urged China to respect Hong Kong laws amid Hong Kong protests and the China-US trade war. Chinese state media CCTV responded that the treaty is "a historical document", and has been "invalid and expired" for a long time. It claims that it is "shameful" and "ridiculous" for United States to "interfere with China's internal affairs" with such document.[33]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, The Government of the HKSAR. "The Joint Declaration" and following pages, 1 July 2007.
  2. ^ United States (1997). Hong Kong's reversion to the People's Republic of China: hearing before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fifth Congress, first session, February 13, 1997. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office. ISBN 0160556651.
  3. ^ Simpson, Andrew (2007). "Hong Kong". In Andrew Simpson (ed.) (eds.). Language and National Identity in Asia. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 168‒185. ISBN 9780191533082.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b c Tsang, Steve (2005). A Modern History of Hong Kong, 1841–1997. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. ISBN 9780857714817. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b Tucker, Nançy Bernkopf (2001). China Confidential: American Diplomats and Sino-American Relations, 1945–1996. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231106306.
  6. ^ Mushkat, Roda (1997). One country, two international legal personalities: the case of Hong Kong. HKU Press law series. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 9622094279. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  7. ^ a b c "Sino–British Joint Declaration". Hong Kong Baptist University. p. 29. Archived from the original on 8 December 2003. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  8. ^ Sino–British Joint Declaration Archived 8 December 2003 at the Wayback Machine, para. 19. Retrieved 8 August 2011
  9. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.1
  10. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.2
  11. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.3
  12. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.4
  13. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.5
  14. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.6
  15. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.7
  16. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.8
  17. ^ The Joint Declaration Paragraph 3.9
  18. ^ Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, The Government of the HKSAR. "The Joint Declaration and its Implementation, 1 July 2007.
  19. ^ A Battle Royal Rocks Imperial Yacht Club, Christian Science Monitor, 10 June 1996
  20. ^ McLaren, Robin. "Hong Kong 1997–2007: a personal perspective", retrieved at 17 April 2010.
  21. ^ a b c Ching, Frank. "The System Works – More or Less", 1 January 2006. Archived 14 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Hong Kong's business as usual". The Guardian. 1 July 2007..
  23. ^ Keith Bradsher, 7 June 2007, "World Briefing. Asia: China Reminds Hong Kong Who's Boss", The New York Times, New York, online.
  24. ^ "China says British complaints over Hong Kong visit ban 'useless'". South China Morning Post. 3 December 2014. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  25. ^ "吳若蘭:港獨不切實際 李波被帶返大陸首違聯合聲明 - 立場報道 - 立場新聞".
  26. ^ "Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 20th anniversary: written ministerial statement - GOV.UK".
  27. ^ "Video: UK Foreign Min. Boris Johnson urges democratic progress in Hong Kong". 30 June 2017.
  28. ^ "2017年6月30日外交部发言人陆慷主持例行记者会 — 中华人民共和国外交部".
  29. ^ a b "China says legally binding Hong Kong handover treaty with Britain has 'no practical significance'". The Daily Telegraph. 30 June 2017.
  30. ^ "China says Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong no longer has meaning". 30 June 2017 – via Reuters.
  31. ^ "外交部指中英聯合聲明是歷史文件 不再具任何現實意義" [Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims Sino-British Joint Declaration is historical document, with no practical significance.]. RTHK.
  32. ^ a b Phillips, Tom (30 June 2017). "China attacks Boris Johnson over 'incorrect' views on Hong Kong". The Guardian.
  33. ^ "央視斥彭斯用心險惡 指《中英聯合聲明》過時無效" [CCTV blames Pence for being vicious, claiming Sino-British Joint Declaration is expired and invalid.]. 香港01 (in Chinese). 21 August 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2019.

Further readingEdit

  • Mark, Chi-kwan. "To 'educate' Deng Xiaoping in capitalism: Thatcher's visit to China and the future of Hong Kong in 1982." Cold War History (2015): 1-20.
  • Tang, James TH. "From empire defence to imperial retreat: Britain's postwar China policy and the decolonization of Hong Kong." Modern Asian Studies 28.02 (1994): 317-337.

External linksEdit