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The Joint Declaration

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The Joint Declaration and Its Implementation

The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong was signed in Beijing on December 19, 1984, by the Prime Ministers of China and Britain. On May 27, 1985, instruments of ratification were exchanged and the agreement entered into force. It was registered at the United Nations by the Chinese and British Governments on June 12, 1985.

[ The Documents ]
[ The Joint Declaration ]
[ The Sino-British Joint Liaison Group ]
[ Agreements Reached ]
[ Land Commission ]
[ The Basic Law ]

The Documents

The Joint Declaration consists of several documents :

  1. the Joint Declaration itself;

  2. Annex I, in which the Government of the People's Republic of China establishes its basic policies towards Hong Kong;

  3. Annex II, which sets out the terms of reference and the working arrangements for the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) which operated until January 1, 2000;

  4. Annex III, which provides for the protection of land rights and for land leases granted by the Hong Kong Government before 1 July 1997. It also establishes the Land Commission, which operated until June 30, 1997; and

  5. an exchange of memoranda associated with the Joint Declaration on the status of British Dependent Territories Citizens.

The Joint Declaration

In the Joint Declaration, the Government of the People's Republic of China declared that it had decided to resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong with effect from July 1, 1997, and the Government of the United Kingdom declared that it would restore Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China with effect from July 1, 1997.

The Government of the People's Republic of China declared that the basic policies of the PRC towards Hong Kong were:

  1. Hong Kong shall be a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China upon the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty;

  2. the Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR) will be directly under the authority of the Central People's Government and will enjoy a high degree of autonomy except in foreign and defence affairs which are the responsibilities of the Central People's Government;

  3. the HKSAR will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power including that of final adjudication. The laws in force before the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty by China will remain basically unchanged;

  4. the Government of the HKSAR will be composed of local inhabitants. Foreign nationals working for the government of Hong Kong may remain in employment;

  5. the social and economic system in Hong Kong before the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty by China will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate rights of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law;

  6. the HKSAR will retain the status of a free port and a separate customs territory;

  7. the HKSAR will retain the status of an international financial centre and there will be a free flow of capital. The Hong Kong dollar will continue to circulate and remain freely convertible;

  8. the HKSAR will have independent finances;

  9. the HKSAR may establish mutually beneficial economic relations with the United Kingdom and other countries;

  10. using the name "Hong Kong, China", the HKSAR may on its own develop economic and cultural relations with states, regions and relevant international organisations;

  11. the maintenance of public order in the HKSAR will be the responsibility of the HKSAR itself, and

  12. these policies will remain unchanged for 50 years.

The Sino-British Joint Liaison Group

The Chinese and British Governments agreed to set up the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) and a Sino-British Land Commission to handle matters relating to Hong Kong in the run-up to the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty by China.

Annex II of the Joint Declaration sets out the functions of the JLG as follows:

  1. to conduct consultations on the implementation of the Joint Declaration;

  2. to discuss matters relating to the smooth transfer of government in 1997; and

  3. to exchange information and conduct consultations on such subjects as may be agreed to by the two sides.

The JLG was an organ of liaison and not an organ of power. It must meet in Hong Kong, London and Beijing, at least once a year at each venue. The term of the JLG ended on January 1, 2000. The JLG had held 47 plenary meetings between May 27 1985 and January 1, 2000: 18 in Hong Kong, 15 in London and 14 in Beijing. It also established expert groups which met many times.

Agreements Reached

Since the establishment of the JLG in 1985, many agreements have been reached between the British and Chinese sides. Agreements reached are listed in the following paragraphs.

One of the JLG's main achievements had been to ensure the continuity of the independent judiciary in Hong Kong. Both the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law provide that the judicial system previously practised in Hong Kong shall be maintained except for those changes consequent upon the establishment of the Court of Final Appeal of the HKSAR. In June 1995, agreement was reached in the JLG on the establishment of the Court of Final Appeal on July 1, 1997. The Court of Final Appeal was set up on July 1, 1997 in accordance with the provisions of the Court of Final Appeal Ordinance passed by the Hong Kong Legislative Council in the 1994-95 session. This agreement ensured that there was no judicial vacuum when China resumed sovereignty in 1997.

Agreements had also been reached to ensure that matters in Hong Kong regulated through UK Laws before the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty by China, apart from those which would no longer be relevant, would continue to be regulated by local legislation after June 30, 1997. The JLG reached agreement on the localisation of UK legislation in the following areas of law: Merchant Shipping (Registration) (1986); Admiralty Jurisdiction(Civil) (1988); Merchant Shipping (Prevention and Control of Pollution)(1989); Merchant Shipping (Liability and Compensation of Oil Pollution)(1989); Admiralty Jurisdiction (Criminal) (1990); Merchant Shipping (Limitation of Shipowners' Liability) (1991); Civil Aviation (First Stage) (1993); Internationally Protected Persons and Taking of Hostages (1994); Merchant Shipping (Seafarers)(1994); Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Goods by Sea) (1994); Dumping at Sea (1994); Merchant Shipping (Liner Conferences) (1994); Nuclear Material(Liability of Carriage) (1994); Coinage (1994); Biological Weapons (1995);Aviation Security (1995); Patent System (1995); Protection of Industrial Designs (1995); Copyright (1995); Whale Fisheries (1995); Submarine Telegraph(1996); Surrender of Fugitive Offenders (1996); Carriage by Air (1996); Official Secrets (1996); Maritime Conventions (1997); Transfer of Sentenced Persons (1997); Outer Space (1997) and Civil Aviation (Second Stage) (1997).

The JLG also agreed to a network of bilateral agreements between Hong Kong and various countries which would continue to be in force after June 30, 1997, including:

  1. Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements with: The Netherlands (agreed to in the JLG, March 1992, signed November 1992), Sweden (June 1993, May 1994), Australia (June 1993, September 1993), Denmark (September 1993, February 1994), Switzerland (September 1993, September 1994), Germany (December 1993, January 1996), Italy (June 1994, November 1995), France (September 1994, November 1995), New Zealand (April 1995, July 1995), Belgium (July 1995, October 1996), Austria (February 1996, October 1996), Japan (May 1997, May 1997) and South Korea (May 1997, June 1997).

  2. Air services Agreements with: The Netherlands (agreed to in the JLG July 1986, signed September 1986), Switzerland (November 1987, January 1988), Canada (March 1988, June 1988), Brunei (November 1988, January 1989), France (December 1988, August 1990), New Zealand (December 1990, February 1991), Malaysia (December 1990, March 1991), Brazil (June 1991, September 1991), Sri Lanka (September 1992, February 1993), Australia (June 1993, September 1993), India (September 1993, October 1996), Germany (December 1994, May 1995), Singapore (February 1996, April 1996), South Korea (February 1996, March 1996), Italy (June 1996, October 1996), Mynamar (September 1996, March 1997), Thailand (September 1996, March 1997), Japan (November 1996, February 1997), the US (March 1997, April 1997), the Philippines (April 1997, May 1997) and Indonesia (March 1997, June 1997).

  3. Overflight Agreements with : Lithuania (agreed to in the JLG, May 1997, signed in June 1998) and Tajikistan (May 1997, not yet signed).

  4. Agreements on Surrender of Fugitive Offenders with: The Netherlands (agreed to in the JLG, August 1992, signed November 1992), Canada (May 1993, September 1993), Australia (September 1993, November 1993), Malaysia (June 1994, January 1995), India (December 1994, June 1997), The Philippines (September 1994, January 1995), the US (September 1996, December 1996), and Indonesia (October 1996, May 1997).

  5. Agreements on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters with: Australia (agreed to in the JLG, February 1996, signed September 1996), the US (March 1997, April 1997), France (March 1997, June 1997) and Switzerland (May 1997, March 1999). The Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill was agreed to in the JLG in March 1997.

  6. Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons with: the US (agreed to in the JLG and signed in April 1997).

In respect of the continued application of multilateral agreements, the JLG established an International Rights and Obligations Sub-Group in 1986. Agreement was reached on the continued application of some 200 international conventions to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region after June 30, 1997.

A list of these international conventions is listed here.

In 1986, the JLG agreed that Hong Kong should be deemed to be a separate contracting party to the GATT (now known as the World Trade Organisation (WTO)). In 1987, the JLG agreed that Hong Kong should become a separate Member of the Customs Co-operation Council (now known as the World Customs Organisation (WCO)).

The JLG also agreed that Hong Kong should continue to participate in various international organisations after June 30, 1997, including: the Asian Development Bank (agreement reached in 1985); Universal Postal Union (1986); World Meteorological Organisation (1986); International Maritime Organisation (1986); International Telecommunication Union (1986); Asian-Pacific Postal Union (1986); the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies in the Asia-Pacific Region (1987); United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and its subordinate bodies including the Asia and Pacific Development Centre, Intergovernmental Typhoon Committee and Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (1987); International Labour Organisation (1987); United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (1987); World Health Organisation (1988); International Criminal Police Organisation (1988); Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (1988); International Atomic Energy Agency (1988); United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (1988); International Hydrographic Organisation (1988); Network of Aquaculture Centresin Asia and the Pacific (1988); International Monetary Fund (1989); International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (1989); International Finance Corporation (1989); International Development Association (1989); International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (1990); International Maritime Satellite Organisation (now known as International Mobile Satellite Organisation) (1990); World Intellectual Property Organisation (1994); International Textiles and Clothing Bureau (1996); and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (1996).

The JLG reached common view on some major contracts that straddle 1997. These included : the Scheme of Control Agreement of China Light and Power (1992), and the provision of Community Electronic Trading Services (1992); the Subscription Television Licence (1993); the Scheme of Control Agreement of Hong Kong Electric (1993); the contract for the West New Territories landfill (1993); the contract for the South-East New Territories landfill (1993); the contract for the North-East New Territories landfill (1994); the management contract for the Aberdeen Tunnel (1994); four Fixed Telecommunication Network licences (1995); the Route III (Country Park Section) Build-Operate-Transfer franchise (1995); the new franchise for China Motor Bus Company (1995); the management contracts for the Lion Rock, Airport, Shing Mun and Tseung Kwan O Tunnels (1996); the new franchise for Citybus Company (1996); six Personal Communications Services Licences (1996); a satellite television uplink and downlink licence (1996); and the new franchise for New Lantao Bus Company (1996). A common view was also reached in September 1996 on the development of Container Terminal No. 9.

Much was done to achieve a smooth transfer of government. As early as 1986, the two sides agreed to the introduction of a new pension scheme for the civil service. In 1987 agreement was reached on the expansion of the Police Force. In 1990, an agreement was reached on measures needed in respect of the Hong Kong Government's archives as a result of the establishment of the SAR.

Agreement was also reached in areas such as the future use of the defence estate in Hong Kong, the site for the Office of the Commission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC in the HKSAR.

The JLG agreed that some travel and identity documents issued to Hong Kong residents before July 1, 1997, would continue to be valid thereafter, including:

  1. Certificate of Identity and Permanent Identity Card (1985);

  2. Document of Identity (1987);

  3. Hong Kong Seaman's Certificates of Nationality and Identity (1988);

  4. Seaman's Identity Books (1992);

  5. Re-entry Permits (1992);

Arrangement have also been made for the preparation of the issue of passports and other documents by the SAR.

In 1986, the JLG agreed on the establishment of a separate Hong Kong register of shipping. In 1994, agreement was reached on transitional arrangements for postage stamps, and the future arrangements for international call sign services for Hong Kong.

The Airport Committee was established under the JLG in 1991 to discuss matters relating to the preparations for the new airport. The Airport Committee reached agreement on matters such as the overall financing arrangements of the New Airport and the Airport Railway, and the Financial Support Agreements between the Hong Kong Government and the Airport Authority and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation.

The Airport Committee also agreed to a number of airport-related franchises, including franchises for air cargo services, aviation fuel supply services and aircraft catering services.

Land Commission

The Sino-British Land Commission was established in 1985 and was dissolved on June 30, 1997 in accordance with Annex III to the Joint Declaration. Its function was to conduct consultations on the implementation of the provisions of Annex III on land leases and other related matters. It met in Hong Kong for 35 formal meetings.

The Land Commission reached agreement on 26 legal documents to be used in various types of land transactions covered by the provisions of Annex III; on effecting by legislation the extension of New Territories leases in accordance with paragraph 2 of Annex III; and on the principles for dealing with special purpose leases. In 1994, agreement was reached on arrangements for granting the land required for the new airport at Chek Lap Kok and the Airport Railway. Land grants for a River Trade Terminal in Tuen Mun and the development of Container Terminal No. 9 were agreed in 1995 and 1996 respectively.

Under the terms of the Joint Declaration, premium income obtained by the Hong Kong Government from land transactions was, after the deduction of the cost of land production, to be shared equally between the Hong Kong Government and the future SAR Government. The Hong Kong Government's share of premium income was put into the Capital Works Reserve Fund for financing public works and land development in Hong Kong.

The SAR Government's share was held in a trust, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government Land Fund, and established by the Chinese side of the Land Commission. The fund was managed under the direction and advice of an investment committee, which included prominent bankers in Hong Kong, as well as a monetary expert from the Hong Kong Government.