The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which gave rise to Hong Kong’s Handover in 1997, is a “historical document and does not have any practical significance.”

Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang made the remarks at a regular press conference on Friday, just a day ahead of the Handover anniversary on Saturday.

He said Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs, and the Joint Declaration made clear arrangements over China exercising its sovereignty and the transitional period leading to it.

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lu kang foreign ministry
Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson. File Photo: GovCN.

“Now that Hong Kong has returned to the embrace of the motherland for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration – as a historical document – no longer has any practical significance,” he said.

“It also does not have any binding power on how the Chinese central government administers Hong Kong. Britain has no sovereignty, no governing power and no supervising power over Hong Kong. I hope the relevant parties will reckon with this reality.”

The UK has been publishing reports on Hong Kong every six months since 1997.

In response, a British Foreign Office spokesperson told Reuters: “The Sino-British Joint Declaration remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over thirty years ago… 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.”

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson. File Photo: Flickr.

‘More progress’

Lu made the remarks after he was asked about statements made by British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson relating to the Handover.

Johnson said on Thursday that the UK hoped that Hong Kong would make more progress towards democracy.

“I want to stress that Britain’s commitment to Hong Kong – enshrined in the Joint Declaration with China – is just as strong today as it was 20 years ago,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, other foreign countries also expressed issued statements relating to the Handover.


The US State Department called on all parties to uphold “Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the crucial ideal of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, as codified in the Basic Law and the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

thatcher handover.
This file photo taken on December 19, 1984 shows Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang (front R) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (front L) in Beijing during the signing ceremony formally committing the planned handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Photo: Pierre Antoine-Donnet.

The US also said it “remains concerned about the infringements of civil liberties in Hong Kong, including intrusions on press freedoms.”

“The United States remains concerned about any infringements of civil liberties in Hong Kong, including intrusions on press freedoms, and we support the further development of Hong Kong’s democratic systems, including the implementation of universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law,” it said.

The EU

The European Union Office in Hong Kong said the “One Country, Two Systems” principle “continues to work for the benefit of Hong Kong people, the People’s Republic of China and the world” despite increased political and legal challenges in recent years

“Hong Kong’s success is underpinned by its high degree of autonomy, rule of law, independent judiciary, democratic separation of powers, and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“We hope that the electoral reform in Hong Kong will be resumed in line with the Basic Law and that an agreement on an election system that is democratic, fair, open and transparent can be found.”

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.