Hong Kong: What is the Basic Law and how does it work?

Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (L) shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping (R) after being sworn in as the territory's new leader at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong on 1 July, 2017. Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Hong Kong is run by a chief executive who has been elected by a committee and formally appointed by the central Chinese government

When Hong Kong was handed back to China on 1 July 1997, following more than 150 years of British control, the "one country, two systems" principle was established as the foundation of the relationship.

While Hong Kong is part of China, the policy has given the special administrative region a high degree of autonomy.

Here is a breakdown of how this works.

What is the Basic Law?

The "one country, two systems" principle is enshrined in a document called the Basic Law - Hong Kong's mini constitution which came into effect on the day of the handover.

The Basic Law was established as part of a treaty between the British and Chinese governments and essentially ensures that Hong Kong's rights and freedoms are preserved for 50 years from the date of handover.

It protects rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech and also sets out the structure of governance for the city.

Hong Kong is ruled by a chief executive with support from a formal body of advisors, called the Executive Council. It also has a two-tiered semi-representative system of government: the law-making Legislative Council and district councils, as well as an independent judiciary.

How is the chief executive chosen?

As stipulated by the Basic Law, the chief executive is elected by a committee of 1,200 people. That committee is chosen by representatives of various sectors in Hong Kong - who only make up 6% of the electorate.

The chief executive is formally appointed to the role by the central Chinese government.

The Basic Law does state that the "ultimate aim" is for the chief executive to be selected by "universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee". This means that many in Hong Kong feel they were promised a level of democracy that has not been delivered.

How much control does China have over Hong Kong?

Hong Kong handles most of its affairs internally, while Beijing is responsible for defence and foreign affairs.

The chief executive is responsible for implementing the Basic Law, signing bills and budgets, promulgating laws and issuing executive orders.

Who interprets the Basic Law?

Hong Kong's courts can interpret the Basic Law "within the limits of [its] autonomy", but the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) - China's rubber-stamp parliament - holds the ultimate "power of interpretation" of the law.

Since the handover, it has acted five times to interpret the law, most recently in 2016 when two pro-independence lawmakers modified their oaths of allegiance to China.

Following that interpretation, critics said the NPCSC was effectively changing the law, rather than clarifying how it should be enacted.

Will the system last forever?

The freedoms enshrined under the Basic Law expire in 2047 and it is not clear what Hong Kong's status will after that.

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