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  • Updated: 11:10am
NewsHong Kong

Thatcher's role in Hong Kong handover draws tributes from across China

Beijing expresses deep condolences to Britain as former PM's influence in China remembered

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:31pm

Beijing was full of praise yesterday for Margaret Thatcher, especially for her contribution to Sino-British relations and for negotiating the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty.

"Margaret Thatcher was an outstanding stateswoman, who in her lifetime made important contributions to the development of Sino-British relations, in particular the peaceful solution to the Hong Kong issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. He expressed the Chinese people's "deep condolences" over the death on Monday of the former prime minister.

In a message sent to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying also extended his deepest condolences to the people of Britain.

"Baroness Thatcher will be remembered as the British prime minister whose signature appears on the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in Beijing in December 1984," Leung said.

"This agreement marked the beginning of Hong Kong's transition and return to China in 1997, when the principle of 'one country, two systems' in Hong Kong was successfully implemented."

People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, ran just a two-paragraph news story about Thatcher's death at the bottom of its inside international page yesterday.

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

But the mainland's two main English-language newspapers and most commercial newspapers led their front pages with the story or gave it prominent front-page treatment.

Many newspapers also ran full-page pictorial and graphic packages inside.

Mainland social media sites were also filled with stories and pictures of Thatcher, along with memorial candles and words mourning the iconic politician who led Britain as its first woman prime minister from 1979 to 1990.

While comments on her role in global diplomacy and her economic ideology were mixed, most editorials and analysts praised her contribution to Hong Kong's return to China.

"It was a milestone event in Sino-British relations and also one of the most important diplomatic events in Chinese contemporary history," said Feng Zhongping, director of European studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

Thatcher's visit to China in 1982 launched the Sino-British negotiations on Hong Kong's future. The two nations signed the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong's handover in 1984.

David Wilson, governor of Hong Kong from 1987 to 1992, said Thatcher admired the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of Hongkongers.

"It is probably true to say that she would much have preferred not to have been the prime minister in whose time the issue of 1997 and the future of Hong Kong had to be decided," he wrote in an exchange of e-mails with the South China Morning Post.

"Having accepted in the end that major changes had to come, she was determined to do her best to ensure that the way of life of the people of Hong Kong, and with it their economic prosperity, would continue."

Tian Dewen, a British affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Thatcher had played an important role in helping push China's policy of reform and opening up.

"She was among the first influential Western leaders to call for China to be drawn into the global economy," said Tian, director of the CASS Institute of European Studies' social and culture division.

In a front-page report headlined "Thatcher helped push ties with China", China Daily said Thatcher played a key role in relations with Britain, especially the peaceful handover of Hong Kong. In an editorial, Global Times, an affiliate of People's Daily, said: "We have no reasons not to show our respect to this woman who signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration."

In Hong Kong, by 3.30pm yesterday, 11 mourners, including British Consul Caroline Wilson, had written in a condolence book opened at the British consulate to pay tribute to Thatcher.

One wrote: "You saved Britain, you saved the Falkland Islands - sadly you can't save Hong Kong."

The book will also be open for signatures from 9.30am to 12.30pm today and from 9.30am to 4.30pm tomorrow and Friday.


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This article is now closed to comments

hard times !
yeah,she saved Britain (her mother country) and she saved Falklands too.Yet she betrayed Hong Kong people by 'selling ' them to the Communists without taking their interests in mind.I remember in 1979, after Sir MacLehose's visit to Mainland China, when he returned to Hong Kong, he said Deng Xiao-ping told Hong Kong people to set their minds at ease-----actually at that time,that experienced diplomat well knew that the PRC would take back Hong Kong (including Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula which were permanently ceded to Britain according to Nanking Treaty signed by Qing governmnet (which was overturned by the Kuomintang led by Dr.Sun Yet-sen and replaced by the Republic of China which should take back Hong Kong as the ROC inherited the Qing Dynasty).We Hongkongers had no say in the return of sovereignty as we were subjects of the British Empire and even worse,in early eighties,the British government led by Mrs.Thatcher passed a law to issue BNO passports to Hong Kong people( who were born here) that did not allow us rights of abode in Britain for fear that we would emigrate there en masse----a very unfair treatment to us indeed. Now many Hongkongers still hold BNO passports as a travel document.So we (most Hongkongers) have no feelings towards the death of this selfish and indifferent old lady who never cared about our well-beings or rights during her rule (especially during the negotiations between Mainland China and Britian --no Hongkong representatives at all ).
The 1984 terms of surrender were perfect for Britain, modest for Hong Kong. Thatcher was poorly advised by the weak Youde and did what was instinctive to her: promote British interests. She succeeded in that, at the expense of Hong Kong. No surprise China sings her praises.
hard times !
Greenwash or washgreen instead ? This guy's comments are funnier than quiet american indeed. At least quiet american can offer some points with proof yet this washgreen is just bare talk, and nothing but empty talk !
I disagree. Hong Kong was rightly returned to China because the Treaty of Nanjing was signed under duress and it was therefore null and void from inception.
Britain was the No 1 in invading and colonizing other countries in the past. It's time to call a spade a spade and recognize that Britannia longer rules the waves and that colonization is evil.
Under the British the people of Hong Kong were just digits, with no votes and lived under the contemptuous rule of the British raj.
Bearing in mind there was no such thing as the People's Republic of China in the 1840s and the Handover occurred in July 1997, less than 48 years after the P.R. China was established Hong Kong being established 150 years earlier could not have been returned to something that did not exist. Therefore Handover is used as a suitable description of the British giving Hong Kong to the communists.
hard times !
As Chinese government gives her high praise,it symbolises her agreement with Deng Xiao-ping to hand back Hong Kong to the Communist China is beneficial to the Communist government and as ianson said,at the expense of the interests of Hong Kong people,including this Old Hong Kong who didn't get the qualification to emigrate elsewhere but had to stay in the territory to experience the arrogance and incompetence of those Beijing-loyalists ever since 1997. How miserable most poor Hongkongers have been in the past 15 years plus ! We didn't have a say on the return of sovereignty at all !
Remitting Prosperity
It would have been impossible for the UK to hang on to Hong Kong and the Kowloon peninsula after 1997. All China would have had to do would be to turn off the water supply. Besides, as Thatcher herself said, if Hong Kong had been an ordinary colony it would have been independent decades before. As a visiting Brit it always surprises me how little it has altered. Even the street names like Queens Road are the same. In most other ex-colonies they have been changed.
There should be no mistake that Hong Kong was "handed over" to The P. R. China and not returned to something that did not exist when Hong Kong was established as a British colony in the 1840s. The P. R. China was established in 1949.
As has been mentioned, the citizens of Hong Kong had little or not say in the future direction of the territory after 97. Look at one country two systems today, it only works if Beijing agrees to what Hong Kong people want.
Good point by ianson below. Yes, Thatcher was probably poorly advised. She could have insisted on keeping HK, although it would have been only HK island and the Kowloon peninsula. Unlikely China would have renewed the lease on the New Territories and outlying islands. It would not be the HK we know today - much smaller, but possibly more interesting. My opinion is that Britain gained nothing from China in giving HK and Kowloon back, and could have kept a thriving island state. It is unlikely that China would have taken HK back by force. On the other hand, Britain had no moral claim to Hong Kong, having won it in a trade 'war'. You could easily argue that it was the right thing to give it back to China.
Funny comments below. The Americans applied tremendous pressure to the Brits to give Hong Kong back to China, presumably to be in China's 'good books'. The U.S. was constantly trying to reduce Britain's global footprint in the post-WWII era and very much succeeded.


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