Hong Kong's role as a leader of China’s economic reforms is well recognized. Its role as leading political development toward a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic China is the focus of HKTP study. Amending a constitution defines the rights and status of being a citizen. In China's mainland, only Party members participate in selecting who can amend the constitution. In Hong Kong, everyone who can vote participates in amending the constitution, but until an amendment is made, Hong Kong's constitution is effectively unratified by citizens (other than by voting in elections, a tacit and minimal acceptance). This is the fundamental transition from being subjects under the UK to being citizens of China that the HKTP tracks.
In 2007 Chinese officials specified timetables by which Hong Kong may go forward, with full direct elections of the Chief Executive permitted in 2017 and full election of all members of the Legislative Council in 2020, provided Hong Kongers amend their Basic Law to that effect. If Hong Kong successfully handles the twin challenges of delivering growth and maintaining stability while politically reforming according to this timetable, experiments on the mainland launched in 2008 of holding urban district elections (clearly modeled on Hong Kong's district elections which have been held since 1982) will likely go forward. Hong Kong is thus the precursor and likely key to China's transition to democracy. This is the second important transition the HKTP tracks.
The HKTP has tracked public views toward government and reforms from the establishment of District Boards (1982) to the first direct elections to the Legislative Council (1991) and the first contested election for Chief Executive (2007). The role of elites in reform as well as in the functions of policy making, implementation, evaluation and amendment has been a major focus of the project. Elites dominate and rule the mainland. How and whether elites accept and even promote majority rule is crucial to Hong Kong's --and China's-- transition to democracy. While parties have been one of the major organizing elements of elites, Hong Kong’s peculiar political system also includes functional constituencies dominated by professional associations, business groups and unions. These functional constituencies along with parties are vehicles of elite opinion formulation and policy lobbying, and have been a focus in the research on the role of elites in particular and Hong Kong’s political development in general. Change toward democracy in China too depends on elites accepting and promoting majority participation. This is the third type of transition the HKTP tracks and investigates.
The Hong Kong Transition Project is a non-partisan research organization dedicated to improving governance in Hong Kong and China by improving knowledge about public opinion, both in empirical and methodological terms. Those members with political affiliations are not involved in project research that would involve their affiliations. Commissioned research is conducted according to strict academic standards of best practice. Analysis and reports are written independently. Commissioned research that involves only questionnaire administration (not analysis by project members) is described as a commissioned survey. Commissioned surveys in which the report is written by project members is described as commissioned research, and the member(s) writing the research report are named in the report.