Former teacher helped with land issues pre-1997

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am

When she was asked to meet the chief Chinese representative to the Sino-British Land Commission, Sun Yanxing, in September 1985, Melinda Ko Shuen-hing had no idea what the organisation did.

Ko, who was then working in the property-leasing and management division of China Resources, could hardly have imagined that she would soon become one of the few Hongkongers to take part in negotiations between Beijing and London over leases of Hong Kong land in the run-up to the handover. The commission was needed because a provision in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed a year earlier limited the lease of new land to 50 hectares a year until 1997.

It was the job of the panel - set up in May 1985 - to monitor that limit and consider proposals from the British side for exceptions to it.

Sun wanted Ko to be a liaison officer and spokeswoman for the Land Commission. She agreed, assuming the title of third secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

'Beijing wanted some Hong Kong people who were familiar with land supply and land laws of Hong Kong to work in the Land Commission,' said Ko (pictured). 'I am honoured to have had the opportunity to help tackle some practical issues for Hong Kong people during the transitional period.'

Her role on the commission earned her a Chinese diplomatic passport and diplomatic immunity in Hong Kong, something she enjoyed until the Land Commission was dissolved in June 1997. She was promoted to first secretary in 1993.

Ko, who had not graduated from a traditional pro-Beijing school, was not an obvious choice to join a mainland institution in Hong Kong. After graduating from a government-run secondary school in 1970, she had taught secondary school. Then, in 1978, a China Resources employee asked her to join the state-owned enterprise and take part in investment research. 'They wanted people who were proficient in English.'

Before long, Ko was transferred to the company's land-leasing and management division, where she was, among other things, responsible for the management of the China Resources Building in Wan Chai.

Ko felt a little uneasy at first after joining the Land Commission because its Chinese representatives were based in the Hong Kong offices of the Xinhua news agency, which in those days had a function similar to that of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong today.

But Ko soon settled in, playing a crucial role in decisions that would shape the city's future long after the transition period.

'At times, the British side wanted to grant land beyond the limit of 50 hectares per year as stated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The Chinese side considered their demands if they were reasonable.'

The amount of new land granted between 1985 and 1997 was 2,972 hectares, or an average of 250 hectares per year.

Ko joined the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in November 1997 after the dissolution of the Land Commission. She retired from the authority last month.