Hong Kong in Transition: The Handover Years

Hong Kong in Transition: The Handover Years

Hong Kong in Transition: The Handover Years

Hong Kong in Transition: The Handover Years

Synopsis

This book presents an overview of critical developments surrounding the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule. Major dilemmas are addressed in the economic, political, legal, social and diplomatic life of the territory.

Excerpt

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: coping with uncertainty in the evolution of the second system

When the text of the Sino-British Joint Declaration was first published in September 1984, it launched Hong Kong into a new era. At that stage, the text still awaited formal ratification. But there was never any doubt it would be ratified and that this would occur on time. Despite the exclusion of Hong Kong as a formal party to the Anglo-Chinese talks, there was no possibility of re-negotiation to dispel local concerns about the detail, or lack of detail, in the text. In theory, there was a choice for Hong Kong: either accept or reject the agreement. In practice, there was no real choice: either accept the certainty conveyed in the terms of the agreement or face a prolongation of the current uncertainty about the future.

On paper the agreement looked good. There was a general consensus that the British negotiators had done a reasonable job. It is not surprising that they failed to persuade their Chinese counterparts of the advantages of their two preferred options: either extending the lease on the New Territories, the coming expiry of which had led to the negotiations, or of exchanging British sovereignty for continued British administration. Nor is it surprising the Chinese team failed to persuade their British counterparts of the benefits of a 'Macau-type solution'. The British options were well known negotiating positions. The Chinese option, formulated in the run-up to the negotiations, has only become widely known since the publication by Hong Kong Baptist University of the eponymous account by Wong Man Fong, a retired senior cadre, of China's resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong.

The main benefit brought by the agreement lay in the promise of certainty it conferred on Hong Kong. The main case for accepting it was not, however, the negative argument of the perils arising from the uncertainty of a unilaterally imposed solution. Although this consideration was ever present, the main case for acceptance was the argument that the agreement was reasonable and the best that could be achieved in the circumstances. There was no advantage to be gained from acting otherwise.

Once Hong Kong was launched into a new era, it would exchange the uncertainties of past decades for a more certain future. The precariousness of the post-war decades had been well captured in the title of Richard Hughes ' book: Hong Kong: Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time. The aptness of this phrase is evident from the experience of the post-Second World War years. In the late 1940s, first the fear of Nationalist (Guomindang) interference, and then, as the tide of Civil War in China turned against that party . . .

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