Former prime minister Lady Thatcher pledged yesterday to defend Hong Kong's free way of life. After a one-hour meeting with the Democratic Party chairman, Martin Lee Chu-ming, at Government House, Lady Thatcher urged China to implement the promises in the Joint Declaration in full. 'I will continue to speak up for Hong Kong's freedoms, it's rule of law and its elected legislature. 'Deng Xiaoping and I agreed in the Joint Declaration that Hong Kong's free way of life should endure for 50 years beyond 1997. 'The world will be watching closely to see that the treaty is implemented in full,' she added. She assured Mr Lee she would maintain a close interest in Hong Kong's affairs after the handover. Mr Lee issued a statement saying that he had discussed the latest developments and future prospects for the elected legislature, rule of law, and freedoms. Mr Lee felt that the 'Iron Lady' was very concerned to see that basic freedoms were not rolled back. 'She believes that the solemn international promises made to Hong Kong people in 1984 must be honoured, and honoured in full,' he revealed. Mr Lee praised Lady Thatcher for defending publicly the elected institutions of the territory. 'She clearly recognises that for Hong Kong to have a genuine 'high degree of autonomy', along with human rights and basic freedoms protected by the rule of law, then we must have a legislature elected by Hong Kong people and accountable to them.' Later, at a function to promote the use of English, Lady Thatcher emphasised that it would be very difficult to keep out the message of freedom. 'Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms and these I think will gradually extend to the freedom of speech,' she said. But she added that the process of change was more difficult than envisaged. Lady Thatcher met Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa last Saturday but details of those talks were not revealed. She returned to London last night.