Joint Declaration in force until 2047: Emily Lau

December 29, 2014 10:36
Then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and then Foreign Minister Ji Pengfei shake hands after signing the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. Photo: HKEJ

Legislator Emily Lau has argued publicly that the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 will remain in force until 2047, 50 years after the British handed Hong Kong back to China.

In Letter to Hong Kong, an RTHK program, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party summarized the background to the declaration.

When Beijing announced its decision to take Hong Kong back in 1997, many people were terrified, she said. This was because many of them had fled from the Communists on the mainland to seek refuge in the British colony. 

The then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping tried to put Hongkongers' hearts at ease by proposing the "one country, two systems" principle, Lau said.

After two years of secret negotiations, the Chinese and British governments signed the joint declaration on December 19, 1984. A few months later, the treaty was deposited with the United Nations.

Lau said that at the heart of the joint declaration was an undertaking by Beijing that under the "one country, two systems" principle, the special administrative region "would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except for foreign and defence affairs, and the continuation of our social and economic systems, lifestyles, rights and freedoms would remain unchanged for 50 years after the change of sovereignty in 1997".

The declaration provided that these undertakings be set out in the Basic Law, a mini constitution for the SAR that was promulgated by the National People's Congress in 1990.

After 1997, to show its commitment to the implementation of the joint declaration, the British Foreign Office began submitting reports on Hong Kong twice a year to Parliament. The 35th report was submitted in July this year.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee conducted two inquiries on Hong Kong, one in 1998 and another in 2006. Both times, members of the committee met senior government officials, including then chief executive Donald Tsang, in Hong Kong.

But when the committee announced its members would visit Hong Kong this month as part of another inquiry in the series, it was swiftly rebuked by Beijing.

Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming said matters relating to Hong Kong are purely China's internal affairs, and the so-called inquiry by the committee amounted to interference.

Beijing also said the members of Parliament would not be allowed to enter Hong Kong, so as to safeguard China's sovereignty and security.

Committee chairman Richard Ottaway said the Chinese deputy ambassador told him the joint declaration covered only the period from the signing in 1984 to the handover in 1997, and so it is now void.

Lau said: "Given the background to the Sino-British negotiations and solemn undertakings by the two governments to allay the fears of the Hong Kong people, the pronouncement by Beijing is irresponsible and unacceptable." 

When a question on the status of the joint declaration was asked in the Legislative Council sitting on Dec. 17, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam said Britain has no moral responsibility toward Hong Kong and that the undertaking about safeguarding Hong Kong's way of life for 50 years after 1997 was a declaration by Beijing alone, not a joint declaration with London.

Tam's remark shocked and horrified many Hong Kong people, Lau said.

She cited University of Hong Kong law professor Michael Davis as saying Tam's statement erased the essential purpose of the joint declaration and has no basis in international law.

This is because it ignored one article of the treaty, which stipulated London and Beijing "agreed to implement" all articles of the joint declaration.

"Whether Beijing and its sycophantic followers like it or not, the joint declaration is an international treaty, which guarantees Hong Kong people's free lifestyles for 50 years after 1997," Lau said.

"Thus it must be valid at least up to 2047. It is not for Beijing to unilaterally declare the joint declaration null and void."

Lau recalled that she has repeatedly criticized the British government for failing to introduce democratic elections in Hong Kong and for refusing to offer full British citizenship to three million or so Hong Kong British nationals.

"Because of such callous treatment, many Hong Kong people do not have any expectation of London," she said.

"Many are also convinced London would sacrifice Hong Kong's interest in return for commercial benefits for the United Kingdom."

However, Lau said, she will continue to insist all provisions of the joint declaration be strictly adhered to, both by Britain and by China. 

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Emily Lau is taken away by police at the end of the Occupy protests in front of government headquarters in Admiralty. Photo: Reuters