Twenty-five years on from the infamy of the handover of Hong Kong there is nothing to celebrate and much to mourn. Was the repression inevitable and could Britain have avoided it ? Undoubtedly so in my opinion.
My years in Hong Kong in the 1980s we’re very happy indeed. But it is delusional to think that even then anyone thought that “One Country two systems” could work. My Chinese Hong Konger friends certainly didn’t think so. In large numbers they sought and gained overseas Passports. Not from Britain, which sold them down the river, but predominantly from Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Or America, if they had the right connections.
It was in 1989 that Britain’s perfidy was seen for what it was. I was in Peking when the students gathered in Tiananmen Square. But I was back in Hong Kong when the tanks rolled in. Bedraggled escapers started arriving with horrific stories of Chinese atrocities. And what did we and the rest do ? Absolutely nothing, apart from a bit of hand wringing.
In the decades that followed Tiananmen there was a series of faustian pacts on an enormous scale between British and other western companies and the Chinese. The scale was huge and human rights played not one tiny part in it. China became the world’s manufacturer on a giant scale. This trickled down in the People’s Republic and a consumer society emerged buying from the West, which salivated at the money to be made.
Hong Kong was Britain’s last significant withdrawal from Empire but we botched it like we botched all the others. The irony is that it didn’t have to be such a balls up. Britain had a right to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon in perpetuity but we hardly played that card in the negotiations. Thatcher wanted out and she certainly didn’t want to offer the people of Hong Kong a home in Britain. Imagine the headlines!
The Chinese didn’t move to repress the Hong Kong people immediately – they are far too pragmatic for that and they famously take a long term view. But now they’ve nothing to lose. Their economic strength is unchallengeable. Some ignorant commentators say we should boycott Chinese goods and services. Ha !
I was privileged to be in Hong Kong for a while and have happy memories. It was a unique place, benevolently governed and a shining example of the potential and success of multiculturalism. I keep in touch with my HK friends, but they are now in Melbourne or Vancouver or Auckland. Who can blame them ?