Thirty years on, a young turk recalls historic trip

In May 1983, 12 young professionals went to Beijing to make a politically incorrect request

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

A week is a long time in politics, let alone three decades.

When the 12 members of the "Young Professionals Delegation" met National People's Congress vice-chairman Xi Zhongxun in Beijing in May 1983, they could hardly imagine that the state leader's son, Xi Jinping , would eventually become paramount leader.

This month marked the 30th anniversary of the delegation's visit to Beijing.

The group included rising stars such as former legislator Allen Lee Peng-fei, prominent barristers Martin Lee Chu-ming and Andrew Li Kwok-nang.

Allen Lee, who headed the delegation, said he was organising a reunion dinner in early July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their historic tour.

He had planned the reunion for tomorrow but had to postpone it as several people could not make it.

"Time really flies," said Allen Lee, now 73.

In May 2003, eight of the group's members held a reunion and now, 10 years later, the ageing "young professionals" will undoubtedly have much to reflect on what 30 years can mean in politics.

The group also included lawmaker Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, who served in the legislature until 2008 and is chairwoman of the pro-business Liberal Party, and Edward Ho Sing-tin, chairman of the Institute of Architects.

Thirty years ago, they were Hong Kong's passionate "young Turks" as they headed north on an historic mission.

The group members, aged 35 to 45 at the time, were perceived by Beijing as potential future leaders of Hong Kong.

But their goal was simple yet politically incorrect in Beijing's eyes - they wanted the central government to extend British rule because they did not believe the Chinese government's post-1997 plans would work.

They wanted Britain to maintain its sovereignty until the political and economic systems of Hong Kong and the mainland had converged.

According to Allen Lee, they were the first group to put forward the proposal of "Chinese sovereignty-British administration" in Hong Kong.

They shared similar views with then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who lobbied Deng Xiaoping in Beijing in September 1982 to accept the formula of exchanging Hong Kong's sovereignty in return for continued British administration after the lease of the New Territories expired in 1997.

The "young Turks" did become leaders in various fields in the intervening years, but some of them were once poles apart in the political spectrum.

Martin Lee was appointed a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee in 1985, but resigned from the committee in protest against the crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

He founded the United Democrats of Hong Kong the following year, and in 1994, merged it with another political group, Meeting Point, to form the Democratic Party.

Allen Lee became an executive councillor in 1986 and founded the Liberal Party in 1993. Lee became the first business heavyweight to win a directly elected seat in the Legco in 1995.

He and Martin Lee crossed paths again in championing for an early introduction of universal suffrage.

Andrew Li became chief justice in 1997 and retired in 2010.

Two members of the group, former legislator Stephen Cheong Kam-chuen and Kwok Chi-hong, have died while Leung Kwok-kwong and Mary Lee Ting-kam, are living overseas.