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UCLA Pacific Basin Law Journal

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Interpreting Hong Kong's Basic Law: A Case for Cases


On April 4, 2004, China issued a formal interpretation of the Hong Kong Basic Law. While the interpretation was controversial because it effectively asserted the central government's authority to control the pace of Hong Kong's democratic development, it was also significant for its implication that the Chinese national government had claimed for itself absolute authority to determine the meaning of contested provisions in the Basic Law. This article argues that the interpretation upset the balance established in the Basic Law between Chinese and Hong Kong authorities, improperly aggregating power to the national government and curtailing the autonomy that is guaranteed to Hong Kong under the Basic Law. The article argues that Chinese authorities should adopt a more restrained approach to interpretation - a so-called "cases and controversies" approach - that combines elements of both China's civil law heritage and Hong Kong's common law tradition

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