NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hong Kong Judges Open Immigration Under The Basic Law

February 11, 1999

Hong Kong's highest court has used an immigration case to stand up to Beijing officials -- making broad statements about the independence of Hong Kong's judiciary and about the former British colony's autonomy in general.

A spokesman for the Beijing government called the decision "a mistake and against the Basic Law" -- a reference to the law which was supposed to serve as the legal foundation of Hong Kong when it reverted to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.

  • The immediate case involved four children born in mainland China to parents who are Hong Kong residents -- with the court finding that the children have a right to live in Hong Kong.
  • Tens, and perhaps hundreds, of thousands of mainland Chinese have a parent who is a legal Hong Kong resident.
  • The ruling opens the way to admission of people to Hong Kong if at least one of their parents is a resident -- even if the children were born before their parents lived in Hong Kong, and even if they are now adults.
  • Observers say that the clash has made it evident that there are major differences of opinion about the meaning of "one country, two systems."

The justices said that Hong Kong courts have full authority to interpret the Basic Law.

The Chinese warning reportedly set off a round of dire predictions and dread among politicians, scholars and diplomats in Hong Kong -- who have long feared that Beijing would try to force its values on their territory. Thus far, Hong Kong remains a free market and a freewheeling place whose newspapers are quick to pick up hints of mainland scandals.

Source: Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Hong Kong Court Strains Ties With Beijing, Saying It Has Last Word on Local Charter," New York Times, February 11, 1999.


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