Beijing deal needed to stop HK 'fading', MacLehose warned
A decade before the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, former governor Murray MacLehose acknowledged the timetable for Hong Kong's future by saying that a deal must be reached with Beijing by 1985 or Hong Kong would 'start to fade'.
In a file sent to London's foreign office in February 1976, contained in recently declassified documents from Britain's National Archives, MacLehose envisaged that Britain would have to accept some degree of mainland 'guidance' during the run-up to China's eventual resumption of Hong Kong sovereignty.
MacLehose said that by 1985 an understanding must be reached with Beijing about what would happen in Hong Kong after the expiry of the lease, otherwise the city would lose confidence in its future, prompting a fall in investment.
'If this process is once allowed to start, the colony could rapidly go down the hill to a point at which it became valueless to either the United Kingdom or China, and probably ungovernable, and thus invite Chinese intervention,' he warned.
Beijing and London signed the Joint Declaration in 1984.
He noted that Hongkongers were prone to overreaction, and 'any change or prospect of change of status could loose a flood of hundreds of refugees' who would have more claim on the UK than any other. He believed one option was to agree to a transitional period with a fixed term for the handover, possibly with the prospect of some 'special status' for Hong Kong.
MacLehose said Beijing would have to include acceptance of a special representative of China in Hong Kong with defined functions.
'The latter would have to include measures to maintain confidence, as well as to assert some degree of Chinese guidance over certain aspects of the administration.'
In a note sent to London in October 1971, he said the best way forward was to turn the city into a 'special administrative district'.
Developments after Beijing and London reached a deal appeared to prove MacLehose's perception was correct. Beijing has wielded increasingly greater influence in the city's affairs since the mid-1980s, with some describing Xinhua's branch as the alternative power centre in the city.
MacLehose said the role of the Hong Kong government would be to cultivate a working relationship with mainland officials and accept increasing mainland activity.
The former governor, who raised the issue with late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping during a visit to Beijing in 1979, said the colonial government must continue its policy of improving the city's economy as a strategy to ensure an acceptable deal.