The new secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs has said the content of the Sino-British Joint Declaration has been implemented through the Basic Law.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said last week that the Joint Declaration is a “historical document and does not have any practical significance” nor any “binding power.”

The 1984 treaty is registered with the United Nations and gave rise to Hong Kong’s autonomy after 1997. Pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok had asked secretary Patrick Nip if he can reassure the public that the treaty is still a valid and binding international treaty.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Mr Patrick Nip Tak-kuen.

“What has been agreed under the Joint Declaration, signed between the Chinese government and the British government for the return of Hong Kong to the motherland – subsequently all the principles and the systems have been set out in the Basic Law,” Nip said at his first LegCo question and answer session.

“We have been implementing the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ under the Basic Law. What has been enshrined in the Joint Declaration has been actually implemented through the implementation of the Basic Law.”

Kwok was dissatisfied but Nip repeated his answer.


Zhang Dejiang, the third-ranking state leader in charge of Hong Kong affairs, said in May that it would be necessary to draw up and refine the powers vested in the central government as detailed the Basic Law.

The powers include a mechanism whereby Beijing may interpret and amend the Basic Law. It can file and and examine Hong Kong laws, and and issue directives to the chief executive, as well as hear their work reports.

Wu Chi-wai. Photo: HKFP.

Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai asked Nip if he would reflect Hongkongers’ concerns about their confidence in the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement, should such powers become more institutionalised and harm Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Nip said “One Country, Two Systems” is a new concept and time is needed to explore its implementation.

“There has been some rather precious experience in recent days, but the core problem is still defining the relationship between the actual constitutional power of the central government, and the power of Hong Kong under a high degree of autonomy,” he said.

“Therefore, [if] the central government, in accordance with the Basic Law, institutionalise the power belonging to the central government… it would be beneficial to the development of the system,” he added.

Starry Lee. File Photo: Stand News.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee said society does not have enough understanding of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, as some had exaggerated the power of “Two Systems.”

“They do not understand that ‘One Country’ is the root… such a lack of knowledge may cause difficulties in implementing universal suffrage and the Basic Law in the future – I want to ask what the secretary will do to allow the public have a better understanding?” she asked.

Nip replied: “There may be a difference in the understanding, between the central government and the Hong Kong public, of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the relationship between the central government and Hong Kong government. First of all, we need smooth communication… otherwise the difference may not be narrowed.”

Kris Cheng

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.