What were the attitudes of Great Britain, China and Hong Kong to the hand over of Hong Kong in June 1997? 

In 1898 the British Empire who had already acquired Hong Kong island, convinced the Imperial Chinese Government that they needed to expand their position in the Eastern waters. Naturally like any other weak country with a fear of another war at hand agreed to this proposition and gave a strip of mainland China, the New Territories, to be a part of Hong Kong. However, it was given as a lease for 99 years. Thus unlike in 1997, the whole of Hong Kong need not be handed back as it was, however, Hong Kong had become a united country that breaking apart would cause uproar.

After periods of civil war and Communist take over and eventual capitalistic industrialisation, the years passed on to China having good relations with the West. With the Joint Declaration signed by Baroness Thatcher (PM at the time) in 1984, the fateful June 30th 1997 arrived.

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At Midnight July 1st the great prosperous British colony was completely handed back to China. If a separation would have happened it would have caused great controversy with the general public throughout the world as well as harming diplomatic and trade relations.

Millions of onlookers around the world tuned in to witness this historical event via television, radio and the Internet. Many had mixed emotions and attitudes about this event, no more so than the key players: Britain, Hong Kong and China.

Britain was represented by its finest. The Royal Yacht, Britannia, was specially commissioned to take the newly elected Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair and HRH Prince Charles. Thus the attitude that is represented from this is that this was a very special event in Britain’s history, and somehow the British were proud of the hand over. In the closing speeches, Tony Blair said:

“Hong Kong is a part of British history. Britain is part of Hong Kong’s history.”

He also said that Hong Kong would remain a priority in the government and so they intend to watch the Chinese. Thus showing that they expect trouble from Chinese rule and are pessimistic towards the hand over.

Prince Charles was a lot more cynical about the hand over. He said that Hong Kong can run themselves now. This gives the idea of when children grow up and leave the cradle. The Prince went onto say that Hong Kong can cope with whatever China would beset upon them. Almost Charles is making China the villains, while praising Hong Kong. It also contradicts Britain’s promise to intervene, perhaps showing that they do not have military or verbal strength to battle with the Chinese. This shows that he was not very positive that the Chinese rule would work and is almost saying goodbye to a “Child of Britain”.

Sending such important figures where there is more of a chance of an assassination shows the Chinese that Britain is still very powerful, just as they were 100 years ago. It was a subtle warning for China to honour the agreement. Another way this was shown was Chris Patten, the Last Governor, drove 3 time around his house before leaving. This in the Chinese Tradition means he would return. Thus echoing Britain’s promise to Hong Kong.

Hours after the hand over, a moderated chat was held on the Time Magazine Website, between a new Provisional Hong Kong Legislator, Tsang Yok Sing (Set-up by the Chine Government) and an ex-Legislator Emily Lau (elected by the people in Hong Kong). Lau would strongly disagree to Charles’s patronising remark that Hong Kong can look after themselves now as Hong Kong never had the chance to be independent. The Legislative Council set up by the British was partly democratic, as only 18 out of 60 seats were up for election. Ms Lau says:

“It is Britain’s disgrace in 156 years of colonial rule, HK has never had democracy. It is like pregnancy, either you are (democratic) or you are not.”

Thus Chinese rule would not be as different as British rule, the new Provisional Council, however, had no elected seats. Thus a bitter sweet attitude emerges from this, she was glad that Britain had gone, but was not very happy with the new Chinese Government either. It was as though nothing had changed.

Also echoes of Tiananmen Square still run through the hearts of Hong Kong’s citizens and there are fears that demonstrations would result in the same way of June 1989:

“Later there will be probably be oppression”

(SCMP HK Website – Word on the Street)

Six months after the hand over the headlines read:

“Chinese Tighten Grip on Protests”

(6/97)

The Chinese had introduced bureaucracy into the process of doing protests, which makes it harder to organise one. Thus the Chinese are oppressing by doing it legally and in a way that would not outrage the West.

Other oppression that could result after hand over is the suppression of practising religion, although this has been guaranteed to not happen for fifty years by the Joint Declaration. However, the suppression of protests shows that the Chinese have many tricks up their sleeves.

Many people amazingly are very happy to return to China as they consider it the original fatherland and do not see any difference would come from Communist rule:

“To ordinary people, there will be few changes”

“I would like Hong Kong to be ruled by the Chinese Government”

(SCMP HK Website – Word on the Street)

Perhaps a part of propaganda, coming from a Chinese Newspaper Website, it cannot be denied that some, particularly the older generation, would be happy to return to China. That is because they believe very highly about their origins, they do not think that they would ever see another Cultural Revolution.

Ironically when the British Celebrations ended, China began their own and much more extravagant celebrations, due to the fact that at first they wanted it to be a quiet and solemn hand over with minimum publicity. Perhaps this is for better public relations and a message to Britain: ‘Whatever you can do we can do better’. Thus China are very happy about the return of Hong Kong.

The British called the withdrawal of troops as a proud march. In the morning following, 4000 PLA troops from China stormed in. This suggests as if the Chinese troops had driven away the British forces. Thus the Chinese were almost smug about the hand over, not only were they getting the mainland that was part of the original treaty but also Hong Kong island.

The Chinese appointed General had been ordered to love the people. This shows that China want to make the system work into one united country. On the night, the Democratics were allowed to make speeches. This is a sign that China want to avert another Tiananmen Square.

Overall China are acting to be very diplomatic with Hong Kong and are very positive towards the hand over. With the complete “package” given to China, the Chinese would have more trade agreements with the West and Hong Kong. Due to this they would expand their technological power, and gain more suitable land to start capitalistic businesses. For China the hand over is profitable enough economically to appease the people of Hong Kong politically.

Consequently with the hand over, China will grow richer and more capitalistic that could be the intention of Britain of giving all of Hong Kong back, to start the domino effect of democracy through increasing capitalism. Thus in 50 years the world could wake up to a democratic China, whose policies would not cause uproar in Hong Kong. The last influential communist country would fall and Britain would have been part of that success.

On the other hand, in 50 years, China may step up their communist policies and another Cultural Revolution would devastate Hong Kong. If this would happen, Britain would be cursed by the people of Hong Kong island.