OBITUARY

Tributes flow for Thatcher, giant of the 20th century

Margaret Thatcher, the 'Iron Lady' who led Britain from 1979 to 1990 and reluctantly negotiated HK's return to China, has died of a stroke at 87

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 12:43pm

Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister who negotiated the Sino-British Joint Declaration settling the future of Hong Kong, has died. She was 87.

A towering figure on the world stage during some of the most momentous events in modern history, and Britain's longest serving leader of the 20th century, Thatcher died after a stroke at her London home yesterday.

World leaders paid tribute to Britain's first woman prime minister, a right-wing titan and key cold war figure.

"It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announce that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, died peacefully following a stroke," family spokesman Tim Bell said, referring to Thatcher's children.

Dubbed the "Iron Lady" when she led Britain from 1979 to 1990, Thatcher developed dementia in later years and rarely appeared in public. Her daughter revealed that Thatcher had to be repeatedly reminded that her husband Denis had died in 2003. And doctors told Thatcher after a series of strokes a decade ago to quit public speaking.

US President Barack Obama called her a "true friend" of America, while German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel hailed her as an "extraordinary leader".

The man occupying the office today to which Thatcher was first elected in 1979, David Cameron, called her "a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton". He said she would receive a "ceremonial funeral with military honours" at St Paul's Cathedral on a date to be confirmed, but not a state funeral.

A frequent visitor to Hong Kong, Thatcher admitted in her 1993 memoirs that she felt "depressed" at the prospect of giving up the city, though she later praised the "brilliance" of her opposite number in the 1982 negotiations, Deng Xiaoping .

When this proved impossible, I saw the opportunity to preserve most of what was unique to Hong Kong through applying Mr Deng's ['one country, two systems'] idea

In a 2007 radio interview with Hong Kong businessman David Tang Wing-cheung, she said that before the 1982 talks she had wanted "a continuation of British administration" in Hong Kong. "But when this proved impossible, I saw the opportunity to preserve most of what was unique to Hong Kong through applying Mr Deng's ['one country, two systems'] idea," she said.

Tang, who had planned to visit Thatcher this summer, described her as one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century.

"She expressed regret and disappointment in the interview," he said. "Of course, she was speaking from the perspective that Britain lost Hong Kong. She was not expressing regret about Hong Kong's situation after the handover. She cared very much about Hong Kong. I met her quite often and every time she would ask how Hong Kong was doing.

Video: Margaret Thatcher on Universal Suffrage in Hong Kong and China

"I remember … many rich people did not want her to hand Hong Kong over to China. But now after the handover, it proves that what she did was correct."

Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming recalled an hour-long private meeting with Thatcher in 1994: "My impression was that she really cared about Hong Kong and its future." He believed she achieved a "not-too-bad" deal with Beijing.

Thatcher last visited the city in 1997 - for the handover she had negotiated 15 years earlier.