The lowering of the United Kingdom and Great Britain Flag over Hong Kong on the 1st of July 1997 marked the end of a colonial era and embarked the return to mainland [China], after 150 years of British Empire rule.
Having the international community on the bleachers, as spectators, it would be interesting to observe, from a democratic erosion view point how a former colony for almost one and a half century of a monarchic state espousing democratic values is handed back to its “motherland”, welcomed, with arms wide open.
It would be enticing to watch out how the situation would progress since a vast majority of Hongkong’s citizenry has [more] nationalistic sentiments with the foster-parent state, the British Empire rather than paying homage to the long-lost parent state, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Premised on this antecedent, would post-1997 “Hong Kongers” have to accept being part of a political system that is [still] basically “hybrid” or “semi-democratic,” but risks “backsliding” towards semi-authoritarianism?(Cabestan and Florence 2018)
Hong Kong as one of the wealthiest modern outpost of the British Empire experienced an economic boom, turning it into a capitalist territory and a cradle of multicultural international community while Mainland China doomed into a closed-door communist state. Hence, illustrates a notable opposing trajectory.
Sketching Hongkong’s “return to mainland” policy
What transpired prior to Hongkong’s 1997 revert to China’s sovereignty? It should be noted that the decision to take back Hongkong is not People’s Republic of China-initiated, but had been pushed by the British empire. Beijing had made it clear from the beginning that it never recognized the ‘unequal treaties’ forced by the British Empire to [then] weakened Qing dynasty leveraging on “gun boat diplomacy”. PRC leader Deng Xiaoping’s stance is certain on not permitting extension of British rule over the territory. He decided to recover it in consideration of its economic and political value: (1) bulk of foreign investments in China flowed from Hongkong (2) PRC can co-opt Hongkong to serve as its link to Taiwan’s Nationalist government, Kuomintang.
On the onset of governance transition between the United Kingdom Great Britain and Northern Islands (UKGBNI) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) transitory policies for the Hongkong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) had been framed under the “One-Country Systems” covering the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. The policy states that the HKSAR will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power. Its existing laws will remain unchanged, the same law will guarantee the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Further, the social and economic systems in the region will remain undisrupted. It will continue to exercise its high degree of autonomy from the central government [in Beijing] except in matters involving national security defense and foreign relations.
Recover, Restore, Restraint: PRC-UK policies on HKSAR
During the policy coordination phase, UK attempted to in-place institutional designs as part of the transitional agenda, a move that safeguards the proliferation of democracy on its former colony. Mechanisms in the executive, the establishment of a “functional electorate” instead of just appointing a consultative body in the election of the chief executive (governor). In the legislative, an “elected” [instead of an appointed] legislature and judiciary This move “soured the political ties” between the two nation states. China countered by restraining these moves, bypassing what is stipulated on the Basic Law on the establishment of an elected provisional legislature, having it appointed by a 400-person selection committee, explaining another election for the legislature would be held a year after (1998). Moreover, the British government argued that the current legislature shall serve its 4-year term but PRC government insisted that their term will end on the day prior to the effectivity of transition. It also opposed the British government’s proposal for an establishment of “functional constituencies” that would automatically grant voting powers to every working citizen, they only accepted a small electorate confined to doctors, lawyers, teachers and bankers. The Chinese official pointed out that the ultimate goal is moving towards a universal suffrage, that is yet to be time-framed. To resolve the issue on the inconsistencies that would arise on the adaptation of exisiting laws, the British government proposed for the Legislative Council to pass appropriate amendments that would take effect on the midnight of June 30, 1997 to reflect Hongkong’s changed status (from a colony of a monarch to a province of mainland China). But, China insisted that the Legislative Council has no right to promulgate laws for post-1997 Hongkong. The fate of civil servants in the bureaucracy is yet to be decided when the chief executive (HKSAR governor) will be in-office [elected by the same 400-person selection committee] and the latter to appoint principal officials. On the judiciary, a court of appeals shall be set-up to replace the Privy Council in London. As stated on the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, seats for overseas judges in the Court of Final Appeals should be provided and filled. This is a mechanism to strengthen judicial independence from a belief that foreign judges are less vulnerable to PRC’s political pressures. To restrain this, PRC only allowed one (1) foreign judge to sit on the court. Highly-politicized events transpired couple of years close to the effectivity of transition which pressured the UK to give up its right to initiate policy-level political reforms and converge with PRC’s post-1997 plans for HKSAR.
How does Hong Kong’s democracy pace now?
Freedom House data sets tracked a decline in democracy and human rights conditions in Hong Kong over the last decade (2017-2018), a sharp 9-point decline over a 10-year transition period. This is believed to be brought about by the increasing interference by the Chinese government in HKSAR’s local affairs. Recent incidents reflecting democratic deterioration is indicative of “corrupted institutional design” elements: the expulsion of LegCo members following the Chinese government’s decision to re-evaluate Hong Kong’s oath-taking rules for lawmakers; the apparent imposition of the Chinese government’s interpretation of Basic Law on Hong Kong courts. Concluding this with counter-factual thinking, should the British Empire got the upper-hand command and last say on the crafting of the institutional design for HKSAR, could this decline have been impeded? What’s next for HKSAR’s democracy almost “half-way” (until 2047) through the transition phase?
 only 11% of Hong Kongers identify themselves as Chinese