In a year of little progress for democracy around the world, China has once more ranked among the lowest on a 2012 global democracy index, while Hong Kong moved up a few places based on rising levels of public participation in politics.
The index, published annually by the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), ranked the People's Republic of China 142nd out of 165 independent states and two territories, and was placed among the "authoritarian regime" category.
By contrast, Hong Kong moved upwards to 63rd place, putting it in the "flawed democracy" category along with France.
The index calculates a country's ranking on a scale of 0 to 10, including 60 separate measures that include electoral process and pluralism, levels of political participation, civil liberties, and government performance.
Britain and the United States were ranked at the lower end of the 25 "full democracies" that scored between 8 and 10 points.
A score lower than 4 puts a country into the "authoritarian regime" category.
China moved up one position compared with the 2011 index, behind Yemen and Belarus but ranking higher than Vietnam and the Republic of Congo.
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Sui Muqing said he feels that China's decline began a decade ago, at a time when other countries were progressing up the democratic scale.
"Other countries have been improving their own political culture and civilization, while China has consistently failed to uphold even its previous standards," Sui said. "If anything, things have got worse, beginning in about 2003."
"The past 10 years have been about stability maintenance, a period during which we lost a lot of ground on human rights and the rule of law."
He added that single party rule is enshrined in China's Constitution, making Beijing's status on the index unsurprising.
The index showed that around 2.6 billion people, about one third of the global population, still live under some form of authoritarian rule, while only 11 percent of people live in a full democracy.
Norway was the most democratic country in the world last year, according to the index, which said that developed countries have been losing ground on democracy.
Washington politics "continues to be paralysed by polarization" while London faces a “deep institutional crisis," it said.
Hong Kong, where political pressure is building in favor of universal elections in spite of hints from Chinese officials that this won't happen soon, scored 6.42 last year compared with 5.92 in 2011.
The EIU said the reason for the rise in ranking was a greater level of influence over the outcome of last year's elections to the territory's legislature, which saw higher turnout than in previous years.
Directly elected legislators now account for more than half of the seats in the Legislative Council, and even the closely controlled race for chief executive was clearly influenced by public opinion, EIU Asia director Simon Baptist told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.
“Hong Kong's vibrant non-governmental organisations, judicial independence, social tolerance and free media continue also to contribute towards its democracy score," the paper quoted Baptist as saying.
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Poon Siu-to said he was skeptical about the ranking, however.
"This is a long way from what we are seeing [here in Hong Kong]," Poon said. "There has been no change in the fundamental status of Hong Kong's democracy; things are the same as they were before."
"The entire government is moving backwards, whether it be on the rule of law, or respect for freedoms, and protection for freedom of the press," he said.
Call for full elections
Momentum is building in the former British colony for a second "Occupy" movement in the city's downtown business district, to press the authorities to allow full and direct elections for the legislature and the chief executive.
However, Chinese officials have hinted that they are unlikely to OK a full democracy by 2020, as permitted in the miniconstitution, the Basic Law.
Anxiety over the city's political future sparked an "Occupy Central" movement in the downtown business district last year, with participants calling for universal suffrage by the next election.
On Jan. 1 of this year, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand the resignation of embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying and universal elections for his replacement.
Leung was narrowly selected for the chief executive job this year by a pro-Beijing committee.
Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.
But journalists and political analysts say that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has redoubled its ideological work efforts in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed antisubversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.