Hong Kong: The Steady Erosion of Freedom

By Evan Fowler and Dr John Hemmings

In 1997, the city of Hong Kong, was handed over to the jurisdiction of the Peoples’ Republic of China following more than 150 years of British control.  Prior to the transition, the British Government secured for the people of Hong Kong a unique set of rights and freedoms set out in the 1982 Sino-British Joint Declaration and later in the Basic Law.  Yet, in recent years, accounts of gross violations of the guarantees made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration have emerged.

Hong Kong: The Steady Erosion of Freedom takes stock of these accounts and assesses the realities of freedoms and rights in Hong Kong over twenty years after its handover.  It lays out – in assiduous detail – deleterious and material changes to rights in areas including Hong Kong identity, the rule of law, press freedom, and protest rights.  Alex Chow, the former Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Occupy Central organiser concludes that unless “Hong Kongers from all walks of life, have the resolve to fight on, the survival of Hong Kong as a place and an idea is at grave risk.”

The report also seeks to answer what the UK’s continuing role means today as a signatory to the treaty.  The report concludes the obligations entered into by the UK endure unabated and that those obligations ought to be fulfilled “through its government, Parliament and civil society”.  The report also considers the UK’s special obligations to those in Hong Kong with British National (Overseas) status finding that the UK “continues to have a direct responsibility” extending to “administrative support” for those citizens.


Made up of seven essays from scholars, politicians, and Hong Kongers; the report considers the complete picture of Hong Kong today.

The first section is divided into four chapters. The first chapter, written by Joseph Lian Yi-Zheng deals with how Hong Kong identity has fractured under the pressure applied by China’s authoritarian leadership. In the second chapter Martin Lee and Margaret Ng analyse China’s undermining of the rule-of-law in Hong Kong, arguably the most significant and enduring legacy of British rule. Evan Fowler, contributes an essay on how press freedoms have been circumscribed in the third chapter, with a focus on how China has used media ownership to shape narratives and agendas. Alex Chow and Jeffrey Ngo contribute the fourth chapter on the rise of youth activism in Hong Kong, noting how the relationship between pro-democracy groups and pro-independence groups is as much a generational one as it is a conceptual and policy one.

The second section of the report then explores the role of the UK vis-a-vis Hong Kong and China.  Kerry Brown contributes the fifth chapter laying out the challenges that Britain’s foreign policy elites must navigate in its relationship with Beijing. Benedict Rogers contributes the sixth chapter, which gives a normative overview of the UK’s responsibility. this chapter highlights the incredible gap that is opening up between China and the UK and lays out some responsibilities that the UK government might assume. Finally, the seventh chapter is authored by Milia K. K. Hau who writes both a critique and an analysis of the paradox of British Nationals (Overseas), an ambiguous form of statehood created by the UK for the people of Hong Kong. her analysis provides a thoughtful critique of where the UK is remiss in its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong and makes thought-provoking reading.



“These 7 essays are a timely and valuable reminder that “two systems in one Country” are subject to constant attempts by the Chinese authorities to erode hong Kong’s freedom and enjoyment of the rule of law. Britain is not just a spectator. Britain, as a signatory of the treaty has both a legal right and a moral obligation to do what we can to ensure that the people of hong Kong fully enjoy the rights they were promised by the Chinese government.”

Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind

Foreign secretary 1995-97, Chairman of the intelligence and security Committee of Parliament 2010-2015

I commend the authors of this compendium for writing with many voices about the truth of what they see happening in a city they love. I, for one, am grateful that their voices have not yet been silenced, though the historic trends are troubling. However, in the end, I think and believe that human dignity and the right to make choices about one’s life should trump the mainland’s desire to rule at all costs in breach of the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement. Let this be the watchword of those who track Hong Kong’s fate from a distance and from those of us here, in the UK, where there are many friends of the people of Hong Kong.

Sir Richard Ottaway

Chairman of the Foreign affairs Committee, Parliament, (2010-2015)


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