On December 19, 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong was signed in Beijing. This document established the handover of the territory to China, that would take place on July 1st, 1997, after about 150 years of British rule. London had, indeed, conquered the region in 1841 and, since then, it had always been an English colony (with a short interruption during the Second World War, due to the Japanese invasion).
The Declaration of 1984 not only determined the restoration of Chinese sovereignty on Hong Kong, but also the conditions under which this would happen: the area would be recognized as a Special Administrative Region and would enjoy a high degree of autonomy over internal affairs, preserving the independence of its executive, legislative and judicial power. The local government would be composed of native citizens and the chief executive would be appointed by Beijing, in accordance with the results of elections. Moreover, it was ensured that local laws would remain in force and that no changes would be imposed on the economic and social system: private property would be maintained and citizens would preserve their rights and freedoms – such as freedom of belief, of the press, of speech, of organization, of movement, correspondence and strike. Hong Kong, it was established, would maintain its status as a free port (the territory is situated by the South China Sea), as a separate customs territory and as an international financial centre, and it would not pay taxes to the Chinese government. Finally, it could develop economic and cultural relations with foreign States. The agreed principles would be transposed into a Basic Law – a sort of Constitution – and would not be modified for a period of 50 years.
The document also established, at the end, the operating procedures through which the transition would take place.
The latter was finalized, as foreseen, on July 1st, 1997, with a formal ceremony and with the Chinese promise to maintain “one Country, two systems”; a promise that has proved to be difficult to keep.