By 1898 Britain takes over Hong Kong island, Kowloon, and the New Territories. China condemns the unequal treaties but makes no formal demands on this land until 1982. The colony is ruled by a governor appointed by the British Crown, who has complete law-making authority. Executive and Legislative Councils provide only advice and "checks" on the his authority.
Hong Kong falls to Japan during World War II, bringing British rule temporarily to a halt. During the war, both China and the United States press Britain to return Hong Kong to China, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill adamantly refuses.
After a brief interval of military rule, in 1946 British reestablishes a full colonial government under the authority of a Crown-appointed governor. The move is said to "resemble a Bourbon restoration." While Britain announces its intention of divesting itself of colonies after the war, nothing is done to decolonize Hong Kong or to provide its citizens with democratic rights.
Petitions are made for changes in the constitution at central and municipal levels. After China becomes communist in 1949, LEGCO adopts broad new public security legislation. Identity card are required for all residents over 12 years old, and police are given authority to search domestic premises and arrest and report any "undesirable" persons.
Hong Kong's colonial system of government remains virtually unchanged, despite popular demand for some kind of representation. There is no voting and no power of impeachment.
In 1980 a process of democratization is begun that gradually gives political power to Hong Kong residents. A three-tiered system is established for more popular representation: Below the Legislative Council are now two Municipal Councils (urban and regional) and 18 District Boards.
Margaret Thatcher travels to Beijing to talk with Deng Xiaoping about Hong Kong's future. In 1984 they sign the Joint Declaration that cedes Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" formula, a status that is to last at least 50 years.
A mini-constitution called "Basic Law" is drafted to govern Hong Kong after 1997. It contains controversial provisions regarding the election of a chief executive to govern the Special Administrative Region (SAR). The first indirect elections for LEGCO are held in 1985, then again in 1988. A Sino-British Joint Liaison Group is set up in Hong Kong to facilitate the transfer of government.
Basic Law is promulgated in 1990. The first popular elections to LEGCO are held in 1990; anti-Beijing candidates secure most of the 20 available seats. In 1991 citizens vote for District Board and Municipal Council members. The Hong Kong Bill of Rights is enacted, but China claims right of review and appeal after 1997. Direct LEGCO elections are held, and Liberal Democrats capture 16 of 20 seats.
The governor's electoral-reform proposals provoke stiff opposition from Beijing. In Hong Kong's first fully democratic elections, in 1994, pro-democracy candidates win handily. Pro-PRC candidates enjoy a stunning win in the '95 LEGCO elections, and China vows it will dissolve LEGCO in '97. Tensions continue with China over who rules Hong Kong. Tung Chee-hwa becomes the new chief executive in 1996.
China announces plans to repeal the rights of protest and free association; Tung Chee-hwa supports the repeal. Hong Kong becomes an SAR of China in July 1997; Basic Law takes effect. A "right of abode" makes news in 1999 when China threatens to overturn a Hong Kong court decision; similar concerns exist over arrest notifications and prisoner-transfer agreements.
While an independent judiciary remains in place, concerns grow over the ultimate authority of Hong Kong courts. Residents enjoy rights of expression and association; the Falun Gong sect, persecuted in the mainland, operates freely. But the executive model of government allows for little democratic debate. Corruption is said to be growing; political insiders allegedly benefit from public contracts.
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