Center for Chinese Legal Studies
One hundred days after taking office as Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Hong Kong SAR) of the People's Republic of China, Tung Chee-hwa pledged both to take steps to improve Hong Kong's environment, and to increase coordination of environmental policy with officials in neighboring Guangdong Province. Tung's comments marked a rhetorical shift from environmental policy in British Hong Kong: eight years earlier, the Hong Kong government's first White Paper on environmental policy, Pollution in Hong Kong – A Time to Act, made only passing mention of China. Yet the White Paper was not alone in its view that Hong Kong could think of its problems independently from those across the border. Promulgated ten months after the White Paper, Hong Kong's mini-constitution under Chinese rule, the Basic Law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China,emphasizes separating Hong Kong from the rest of China at the same time as it provides for China's resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong.
This Article uses an analysis of the status of environmental law in Hong Kong to argue that the Basic Law's vision of autonomy for Hong Kong is limited and unworkable. Three weaknesses undermine the effectiveness of the Basic Law. First, the Basic Law fails to provide a comprehensive or realistic mechanism for determining Hong Kong's status in international law, and as a result fails to secure Hong Kong's status both internationally and in China. Second, the Basic Law's conception of a sphere of autonomy for Hong Kong that separates Hong Kong from the rest of China is at odds with the reality of Hong Kong's integration with China, and thus may impede efforts at much needed regional problem solving. Third, the Basic Law mirrors weaknesses in Chinese law more generally by failing to delineate sufficiently Hong Kong's autonomy, and by neglecting to provide any mechanism for guaranteeing that Hong Kong's autonomy will be maintained.
Benjamin L. Liebman,
Autonomy through Separation: Environmental Law and the Basic Law of Hong Kong,
Harv. Int'l L. J.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/555