Transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong
The transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China, referred to as "the Handover" internationally or "the Return" in China, took place on 1 July 1997. The landmark event marked the end of British administration in Hong Kong, and is often regarded as the fall of the British Empire.
Hong Kong's territory was acquired from three separate treaties: the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Convention of Peking in 1860, and The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898, which gave the UK the control of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon (area south of Boundary Street), and the New Territories (area north of Boundary Street and south of the Sham Chun River, and outlying islands), respectively.
Although Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, the control on the New Territories was a 99-year lease. The finite nature of the 99-year lease did not hinder Hong Kong's development as the New Territories were combined as a part of Hong Kong.
However, by 1997, it was impractical to separate the three territories and only return the New Territories. In addition, with the scarcity of land and natural resources in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the New Territories were being developed with large-scale infrastructures and other developments, with the break-even day lying well past 30 June 1997. Thus, the status of the New Territories after the expiry of the 99-year lease became important for Hong Kong's economic development.
When the People's Republic of China obtained its seat in the United Nations as a result of the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 in 1971, it began to act diplomatically on the sovereignty issues of Hong Kong and Macau. In March 1972, the Chinese UN representative, Huang Hua, wrote to the United Nations Decolonization Committee to state the position of the Chinese government:
- "The questions of Hong Kong and Macau belong to the category of questions resulting from the series of unequal treaties which the imperialists imposed on China. Hong Kong and Macau are part of Chinese territory occupied by the British and Portuguese authorities. The settlement of the questions of Hong Kong and Macau is entirely within China's sovereign right and do not at all fall under the ordinary category of colonial territories. Consequently they should not be included in the list of colonial territories covered by the declaration on the granting of independence to colonial territories and people. With regard to the questions of Hong Kong and Macau, the Chinese government has consistently held that they should be settled in an appropriate way when conditions are ripe."
In March 1979, the Governor of Hong Kong Murray MacLehose paid his first official visit to the People's Republic of China (PRC), taking the initiative to raise the question of Hong Kong's sovereignty with Deng Xiaoping. Without clarifying and establishing the official position of the PRC government, the arranging of real estate leases and loans agreements in Hong Kong within the next 18 years would become difficult.
In response to concerns over land leases in the New Territories, MacLehose proposed that British administration of the whole of Hong Kong, as opposed to sovereignty, be allowed to continue after 1997. He also proposed that contracts include the phrase "for so long as the Crown administers the territory".
In fact, as early as the mid-1970s, Hong Kong had faced additional risks raising loans for large-scale infrastructure projects such as its Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system and a new airport. Caught unprepared, Deng asserted the necessity of Hong Kong's return to China, upon which Hong Kong would be given special status by the PRC government.
MacLehose's visit to the PRC raised the curtain on the issue of Hong Kong's sovereignty: Britain was made aware of the PRC's aspiration to resume sovereignty over Hong Kong and began to make arrangements accordingly to ensure the sustenance of her interests within the territory, as well as initiating the creation of a withdrawal plan in case of emergency.
Three years later, Deng received the former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, who had been dispatched as the special envoy of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to establish an understanding of the PRC's view with regards to the question of Hong Kong; during their meeting, Deng outlined his plans to make the territory a special economic zone, which would retain its capitalist system under Chinese sovereignty.
In the same year, Edward Youde, who succeeded MacLehose as the 26th Governor of Hong Kong, led a delegation of five Executive Councillors to London, including Chung Sze-yuen, Lydia Dunn, and Roger Lobo. Chung presented their position on the sovereignty of Hong Kong to Thatcher, encouraging her to take into consideration the interests of the native Hong Kong population in her upcoming visit to China.
In light of the increasing openness of the PRC government and economic reforms on the mainland, the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sought the PRC's agreement to a continued British presence in the territory.
However, the PRC took a contrary position: not only did the PRC wish for the New Territories, on lease until 1997, to be placed under the PRC's jurisdiction, it also refused to recognize the "unfair and unequal treaties" under which Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded to Britain in perpetuity. Consequently, the PRC recognized only the British administration in Hong Kong, but not British sovereignty.
Before the negotiationsEdit
In the wake of Governor MacLehose's visit, Britain and the PRC established initial diplomatic contact for further discussions of the Hong Kong question, paving the way for Thatcher's first visit to the PRC in September 1982.
Margaret Thatcher, in discussion with Deng Xiaoping, reiterated the validity of an extension of the lease of Hong Kong territory, particularly in light of binding treaties, including the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Convention of Peking in 1856, and the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory signed in 1890.
In response, Deng Xiaoping cited clearly the lack of room for compromise on the question of sovereignty over Hong Kong; the PRC, as the successor of Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China on the mainland, would recover the entirety of the New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. China considered treaties about Hong Kong as unequal and ultimately refused to accept any outcome that would indicate permanent loss of sovereignty over Hong Kong's area, whatever wording the former treaties had.
During talks with Thatcher, China planned to invade and seize Hong Kong if the negotiations set off unrest in the colony. Thatcher later said that Deng told her bluntly that China could easily take Hong Kong by force, stating that "I could walk in and take the whole lot this afternoon", to which she replied that "there is nothing I could do to stop you, but the eyes of the world would now know what China is like".
After her visit with Deng in Beijing, Thatcher was received in Hong Kong as the first British Prime Minister to set foot on the territory whilst in office. At a press conference, Thatcher re-emphasised the validity of the three treaties, asserting the need for countries to respect treaties on universal terms: "There are three treaties in existence; we stick by our treaties unless we decide on something else. At the moment, we stick by our treaties.".
At the same time, at the 5th session of the 5th National People's Congress, the constitution was amended to include a new Article 31 which stated that the country might establish Special Administrative Regions (SARs) when necessary.
The additional Article would hold tremendous significance in settling the question of Hong Kong and later Macau, putting into social consciousness the concept of "One country, two systems". The concept would prove useful to deploy until the territories were secured and conditions were ripe for its gradual abrogation.
A few months after Thatcher's visit to Beijing, the PRC government had yet to open negotiations with the British government regarding the sovereignty of Hong Kong.
Shortly before the initiation of sovereignty talks, Governor Youde declared his intention to represent the population of Hong Kong at the negotiations. This statement sparked a strong response from the PRC, prompting Deng Xiaoping to denounce talk of "the so-called 'three-legged stool'", which implied that Hong Kong was a party to talks on its future, alongside Beijing and London.
At the preliminary stage of the talks, the British government proposed an exchange of sovereignty for administration and the implementation of a British administration post-handover.
The PRC government refused, contending that the notions of sovereignty and administration were inseparable, and although it recognised Macau as a "Chinese territory under Portuguese administration", this was only temporary.
In fact, during informal exchanges between 1979 and 1981, the PRC had proposed a "Macau solution" in Hong Kong, under which it would remain under British administration at China's discretion.
However, this had previously been rejected following the 1967 Leftist riots, with the then Governor, David Trench, claiming the leftists' aim was to leave the UK without effective control, or "to Macau us".
The conflict that arose at that point of the negotiations ended the possibility of further negotiation. During the reception of former British Prime Minister Edward Heath during his sixth visit to the PRC, Deng Xiaoping commented quite clearly on the impossibility of exchanging sovereignty for administration, declaring an ultimatum: the British government must modify or give up its position or the PRC will announce its resolution of the issue of Hong Kong sovereignty unilaterally.
In 1983, Typhoon Ellen ravaged Hong Kong, causing great amounts of damage to both life and property. The Hong Kong dollar plummeted on Black Saturday, and the Financial Secretary John Bremridge publicly associated the economic uncertainty with the instability of the political climate. In response, the PRC government condemned Britain through the press for "playing the economic card" in order to achieve their ends: to intimidate the PRC into conceding to British demands.
Governor Youde with nine members of the Hong Kong Executive Council travelled to London to discuss with Prime Minister Thatcher the crisis of confidence—the problem with morale among the people of Hong Kong arising from the ruination of the Sino-British talks. The session concluded with Thatcher's writing of a letter addressed to the PRC Premier Zhao Ziyang.
In the letter, she expressed Britain's willingness to explore arrangements optimising the future prospects of Hong Kong while utilising the PRC's proposals as a foundation. Furthermore, and perhaps most significantly, she expressed Britain's concession on its position of a continued British presence in the form of an administration post-handover.
Two rounds of negotiations were held in October and November. On the sixth round of talks in November, Britain formally conceded its intentions of either maintaining a British administration in Hong Kong or seeking some form of co-administration with the PRC, and showed its sincerity in discussing PRC's proposal on the 1997 issue. Obstacles were cleared.
Simon Keswick, chairman of Jardine Matheson & Co., said they were not pulling out of Hong Kong, but a new holding company would be established in Bermuda instead. The PRC took this as yet another plot by the British. The Hong Kong government explained that it had been informed about the move only a few days before the announcement. The government would not and could not stop the company from making a business decision.
Just as the atmosphere of the talks was becoming cordial, members of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong felt impatient at the long-running secrecy over the progress of Sino-British talks on the Hong Kong issue. A motion, tabled by legislator Roger Lobo, declared "This Council deems it essential that any proposals for the future of Hong Kong should be debated in this Council before agreement is reached", was passed unanimously.
The PRC attacked the motion furiously, referring to it as "somebody's attempt to play the three-legged stool trick again". At length, the PRC and Britain initiated the Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong's future in Beijing. Zhou Nan, the then PRC Deputy Foreign Minister and leader of the negotiation team, and Sir Richard Evans, British Ambassador to Beijing and leader of the team, signed respectively on behalf of the two governments.
Sino-British Joint DeclarationEdit
The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed by the Prime Ministers of the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom governments on 19 December 1984 in Beijing. The Declaration entered into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification on 27 May 1985 and was registered by the People's Republic of China and United Kingdom governments at the United Nations on 12 June 1985.
In the Joint Declaration, the People's Republic of China Government stated that it had decided to resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong (including Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories) with effect from 1 July 1997 and the United Kingdom Government declared that it would restore Hong Kong to the PRC with effect from 1 July 1997. In the document, the People's Republic of China Government also declared its basic policies regarding Hong Kong.
In accordance with the "One Country, Two Systems" principle agreed between the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China, the socialist system of the People's Republic of China would not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and Hong Kong's previous capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years. This would have left Hong Kong unchanged until 2047.
The Joint Declaration provided that these basic policies should be stipulated in the Hong Kong Basic Law. The ceremony of the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration took place at 18:00, 19 December 1984 at the Western Main Chamber of the Great Hall of the People. The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office at first proposed a list of 60-80 Hong Kong people to attend the ceremony. The number was finally extended to 101.
The list included Hong Kong government officials, members of the Legislative and Executive Councils, chairmen of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and Standard Chartered Bank, prominent businessmen such as Li Ka-shing, Pao Yue-kong and Fok Ying-tung, and also Martin Lee Chu-ming and Szeto Wah.
Drafting of Basic LawEdit
The Basic Law was drafted by a Drafting Committee composed of members from both Hong Kong and mainland China. A Basic Law Consultative Committee formed purely by Hong Kong people was established in 1985 to canvas views in Hong Kong on the drafts.
The first draft was published in April 1988, followed by a five-month public consultation exercise. The second draft was published in February 1989, and the subsequent consultation period ended in October 1989.
The Basic Law was formally promulgated on 4 April 1990 by the NPC, together with the designs for the flag and emblem of the HKSAR. Some members of the Basic Law drafting committee were ousted by Beijing following the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, after voicing views supporting the students.
The Basic Law was said to be a mini-constitution drafted with the participation of Hong Kong people. The political system had been the most controversial issue in the drafting of the Basic Law. The special issue sub-group adopted the political model put forward by Louis Cha. This "mainstream" proposal was criticised for being too conservative.
According to Clauses 158 and 159 of the Basic Law, powers of interpretation and amendment of the Basic Law are vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and the National People's Congress, respectively. Hong Kong's people have limited influence.
Tide of migrationEdit
After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the Executive Councillors and the Legislative Councillors unexpectedly held an urgent meeting, in which they agreed unanimously that the British Government should give the people of Hong Kong the right of abode in the United Kingdom.
More than 10,000 Hong Kong residents rushed to Central in order to get an application form for residency in the United Kingdom. On the eve of the deadline, over 100,000 lined up overnight for a BN(O) application form. While mass migration did begin well before 1989, the event did lead to the peak migration year in 1992 with 66,000 leaving.
Many citizens were pessimistic towards the future of Hong Kong and the transfer of the region's sovereignty. A tide of emigration, which was to last for no less than five years, broke out. At its peak, citizenship of small countries, such as Tonga, was also in great demand.
Singapore, which also had a predominantly Chinese population, was another popular destination, with the country's Commission (now Consulate-General) being besieged by anxious Hong Kong residents. By September 1989, 6000 applications for residency in Singapore had been approved by the Commission.
Some consul staff were suspended or arrested for their corrupt behaviour in granting immigration visas. In April 1997, the acting immigration officer at the US Consulate-General, James DeBates, was suspended after his wife was arrested for smuggling of Chinese migrants into the United States. The previous year, his predecessor, Jerry Stuchiner, had been arrested for smuggling forged Honduran passports into the territory before being sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Canada (Vancouver and Toronto), United Kingdom (London, Glasgow, and Manchester), Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), and the United States (San Francisco and New York) were, by and large, the most popular destinations. The United Kingdom devised the British Nationality Selection Scheme, granting 50,000 families British citizenship under the British Nationality Act (Hong Kong) 1990.
Vancouver was among the most popular destinations, earning the nickname of "Hongcouver". Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, was nicknamed "Little Hong Kong". Other popular settlements are found in Auckland, New Zealand and Dublin, Ireland. All in all, from the start of the settlement of the negotiation in 1984 to 1997, nearly 1 million people emigrated; consequently, Hong Kong suffered serious loss of capital.
Chris Patten became the last governor of Hong Kong. This was regarded as a turning point in Hong Kong's history. Unlike his predecessors, Patten was not a diplomat, but a career politician and former Member of Parliament. He introduced democratic reforms which pushed PRC–British relations to a standstill and affected the negotiations for a smooth handover.
Patten introduced a package of electoral reforms in the Legislative Council. These reforms proposed to enlarge the electorate, thus making voting in the Legislative Council more democratic. This move posed significant changes because Hong Kong citizens would have the power to make decisions regarding their future.
The principal British guest was Prince Charles, who read a farewell speech on behalf of the Queen. The newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, the departing Governor Chris Patten and General Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff, also attended.
Before and after handoverEdit
|Unchanged after 30 June 1997||Changed after 30 June 1997|
Rose Garden ProjectEdit
After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the Hong Kong government proposed a grand "Rose Garden Project" to restore faith and solidarity among the residents. As the construction of the new Hong Kong International Airport would extend well after the handover, Governor Wilson met PRC Premier Li Peng in Beijing to ease the mind of the PRC government.
The communist press published stories that the project was an evil plan to bleed Hong Kong dry before the handover, leaving the territory in serious debt. After three years of negotiations, Britain and the PRC finally reached an agreement over the construction of the new airport, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Removing hills and reclaiming land, it took only a few years to construct the new airport.
Views of the Kowloon Walled CityEdit
The Walled City was originally a single fort built in the mid-19th century on the site of an earlier 17th century watch post on the Kowloon Peninsula of Hong Kong. After the ceding of Hong Kong Island to Britain in 1842 (Treaty of Nanjing), Manchu Qing Dynasty authorities of China felt it necessary for them to establish a military and administrative post to rule the area and to check further British influence in the area.
The 1898 Convention which handed additional parts of Hong Kong (the New Territories) to Britain for 99 years excluded the Walled City, with a population of roughly 700. It stated that China could continue to keep troops there, so long as they did not interfere with Britain's temporary rule.
Britain quickly went back on this unofficial part of the agreement, attacking Kowloon Walled City in 1899, only to find it deserted. They did nothing with it, or the outpost, and thus posed the question of Kowloon Walled City's ownership squarely up in the air. The outpost consisted of a yamen, as well as buildings which grew into low-lying, densely packed neighbourhoods from the 1890s to 1940s.
The enclave remained part of Chinese territory despite the turbulent events of the early 20th century that saw the fall of the Qing government, the establishment of the Republic of China and later, a Communist Chinese government (PRC).
Squatters began to occupy the Walled City, resisting several attempts by Britain in 1948 to drive them out. The Walled City became a haven for criminals and drug addicts, as the Hong Kong Police had no right to enter the City and China refused maintainability. The 1949 foundation of the People's Republic of China added thousands of refugees to the population, many from Guangdong; by this time, Britain had had enough, and simply adopted a "hands-off" policy.
A murder that occurred in Kowloon Walled City in 1959 set off a small diplomatic crisis, as the two nations each tried to get the other to accept responsibility for a vast tract of land now virtually ruled by anti-Manchurian Triads.
After the Joint Declaration in 1984, the PRC allowed British authorities to demolish the City and resettle its inhabitants. The mutual decision to tear down the walled city was made in 1987. The government spent up to HK$ 3 billion to resettle the residents and shops.
Some residents were not satisfied with the compensation, and some even obstructed the demolition in every possible way. Ultimately, everything was settled, and the Walled City became a park.
Views of Rennie's MillEdit
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Rennie's Mill got its name from a Canadian businessman named Alfred Herbert Rennie, who established a flour mill at Junk Bay. The business failed, and Rennie hanged himself there in 1908. The incident gave the Chinese name for the site Tiu Keng Leng (吊頸嶺), meaning "Hanging (neck) Ridge". The name was later formally changed to similar-sounding Tiu King Leng (調景嶺) because it was regarded as inauspicious.
In the 1950s the (British) Government of Hong Kong settled a considerable number of refugees from China—former Nationalist soldiers and other Kuomintang supporters—at Rennie's Mill, following the Chinese civil war. For many years the area was a Kuomintang enclave known as "Little Taiwan", with the flag of the Republic of China flying, its own school system and practically off-limits to the Royal Hong Kong Police Force.
In 1996 the Hong Kong government finally forcibly evicted Rennie's Mill's residents, ostensibly to make room for new town developments, as part of the Tseung Kwan O New Town, but widely understood to be a move to please the Communist Chinese government before Hong Kong reverted to Communist Chinese rule in 1997.
Before the eviction, Rennie's Mill could be reached by the winding, hilly and narrow Po Lam Road South. At that time, Rennie's Mill's only means of public transport were the routes 90 and 290 of Kowloon Motor Bus, which were operated by minibuses, and by water transport.
The Republic of China on Taiwan promulgated the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong & Macao Affairs on 2 April 1997 by Presidential Order, and the Executive Yuan on 19 June 1997 ordered the provisions pertaining to Hong Kong to take effect on 1 July 1997.
The United States–Hong Kong Policy Act or more commonly known as the Hong Kong Policy Act (P.L no. 102-383m 106 Stat. 1448) is a 1992 act enacted by the United States Congress. It allows the United States to continue to treat Hong Kong separately from China for matters concerning trade export and economics control after the handover.
The United States was represented by then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Hong Kong handover ceremony. However, she partially boycotted it in protest of China's dissolution of the democratically elected Hong Kong legislature.
In popular cultureEdit
Scholars have begun to study the complexities of the transfer as shown in the popular media, such as films, television and video and online games. For example, Hong Kong director Fruit Chan made a sci-fi thriller The Midnight After (2014) that stressed the sense of loss and alienation represented by survivors in an apocalyptic Hong Kong. Chan infuses a political agenda in the film by playing on Hong Kongers' collective anxiety towards communist China. Yiman Wang has argued that America has viewed China through the prisms of films from Shanghai and Hong Kong, with a recent emphasis on futuristic disaster films set in Hong Kong after the transfer goes awry.
- The handover is central to the plot of the 1998 action film Rush Hour.
- It is also mentioned in another 1998 film—Knock Off.
- The handover is the backdrop for "A Death in Hong Kong", the first episode the tenth series of Murder, She Wrote.
- Hong Kong Cantopop artist Sam Hui has made numerous references to 1997 including the song "Could Not Care Less About 1997" (話知你97).
- Chinese American rapper Jin Auyeung has a song called "1997" in his Cantonese album ABC, which he makes references to the handover, ten years since Hong Kong's return to China.
- Zero Minus Ten, a James Bond novel by Raymond Benson, is set largely in Hong Kong during the days leading up to the Handover.
- The 2012 James Bond film Skyfall features a villain who had been an MI6 agent in Hong Kong until the Handover, when he was handed over to the Chinese for his unauthorized hacking of their security networks.
- The Doctor Who Unbound audio drama Sympathy for the Devil by Jonathan Clements is set on the eve of the Handover and involves an attempted defection by a war criminal, only hours before China takes control.
- Hong Kong 97, a 1994 American movie starring Robert Patrick, is set in Hong Kong during the 24 hours before the end of British rule.
- Hong Kong 97, a 1995 Japanese homebrew SNES game, is set in Hong Kong around the time of the transition. The player controls Chin (Jackie Chan), who was called by the Hong Kong government to kill the invading Chinese, including Tong Shau Ping. The game gained a cult following due to its very poor quality and absurd plot.
- The handover has been referred to numerous times in the movies of Fight Back to School series by Stephen Chow.
- The handover of Hong Kong is referenced multiple times and witnessed in the 1997 film Chinese Box, starring Jeremy Irons and Gong Li. The film itself was filmed leading up to and during the handover.
- The 2014 video game, Wargame: Red Dragon features a campaign based around a fictional conflict between the British Army and People's Liberation Army when the latter invade Hong Kong in order to reclaim it.
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