The Sino-British Joint Declaration


When Hong Kong was transferred from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, it was done so on the condition that the people of Hong Kong would continue to enjoy their own way of life. The model of 'one country, two systems' was designed to guarantee human rights, rule of law and the progression towards democracy in Hong Kong. Article 39 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law is clear that the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights shall remain in force through the legal system of the Special Administrative Region.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty at the United Nations, places responsibilities on the United Kingdom to protect these rights and freedoms: 

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 Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law. (Article 3.5 of the Sino-British Joint Declaration)

A Promise Under Threat

Hong Kong Watch note with concern that human rights, freedoms and rule of law are increasingly being threatened in Hong Kong. In the run up to the twentieth anniversary of the handover, the world witnessed pro-democracy activists being denied the right to stand in elections as well as elected lawmakers thrown out of the Legislative Council. 

More than ever there are concerns that the universal freedoms and democratic reforms, which the people of Hong Kong are entitled to, are being undermined.  


A Promise to Remember

Hong Kong Watch believes that such actions violate both the spirit and the word of the Joint Declaration and as such the United Kingdom has a moral and legal obligation to speak out.

When Hong Kong Watch launched, the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes underlined his support for Hong Kong Watch and the importance of the Joint Declaration: 

'I am delighted to hear that so many friends of Hong Kong wish to support the efforts made there. They draw sympathy from all around the world. I hope they will make certain that Hong Kong remains a free and open city. Hong Kong was of course guaranteed local autonomy and the continuation of its way of life in the Joint Declaration under the International Treaty between Britain and China which lasts until 2047.   

It is important that China holds to its obligations under the Joint Declaration. Not only is this important for Hong Kong itself, but it will also be taken as a sign by many countries around the world about how much they can trust China to keep its word as the next few years unfold. It is not external interference if friends or supporters of Hong Kong take fair, informed and balanced view of the community's development. It is simply a mark of continuing friendship for a great city.'

In March 1996, British Prime Minister John Major visited Hong Kong. He underlined the United Kingdom’s lasting commitment to Hong Kong when he said: “If there were any suggestion of a breach of the Joint Declaration, we would have a duty to pursue every legal and other avenue available to us…” He concluded that “Hong Kong will never have to walk alone”.

It is in this spirit that Hong Kong Watch raises awareness of the developments in Hong Kong among politicians, policy makers and the public in the United Kingdom and beyond.