Freedom in the World
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Hong Kong *
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In June 2010, after months of consultation and closed-door negotiations, the Hong Kong legislature approved electoral reforms that would enable a slim majority of lawmakers to be elected by popular vote for the first time, though the existing semidemocratic system would largely be preserved. Separately, Beijing’s growing influence over Hong Kong’s politics, media landscape, and immigration policies was evident during the year, and Hong Kong police appeared less tolerant of public protests.
Hong Kong Island was ceded in perpetuity to Britain in 1842; adjacent territories were subsequently added, and the last section was leased to Britain in 1898 for a period of 99 years. In the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, London agreed to restore the entire colony to China in 1997. In return, Beijing—under its “one country, two systems” formula—pledged to maintain the enclave’s legal, political, and economic autonomy for 50 years.
Under the 1984 agreement, a constitution for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, known as the Basic Law, took effect in 1997. The Basic Law stated that universal suffrage was the “ultimate aim” for Hong Kong, but it allowed direct elections for only 18 seats in the 60-member Legislative Council (Legco), and provided for the gradual expansion of elected seats to 30 by 2003. After China took control, it temporarily suspended the Legco and installed a provisional legislature that repealed or tightened several civil liberties laws during its 10-month tenure.
Hong Kong’s Basic Law calls for the election of a chief executive and a unicameral Legislative Council (Legco). The chief executive is elected by an 800-member committee: some 200,000 “functional constituency” voters—representatives of various elite business and social sectors, many with close ties to Beijing—elect 600 of the committee’s members, and the remaining 200 consist of Legco members, Hong Kong delegates to the NPC, religious representatives, and 41 members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a mainland advisory body. The chief executive serves a five-year term.