“Thatcher visit on the cards,” ran a headline in the South China Morning Post on June 21, 1982. “The Prime Minister [...] will be visiting Hongkong en route to Peking, Tokyo or both,” the story continued.
The dates for Margaret Thatcher’s visit were confirmed in a Post report on August 25, when it was announced that the British leader would arrive in Japan on September 17, spending five days there and the same length of time in China before visiting Hong Kong from September 26 to 28. Qian Qichen, China’s vice-minister of foreign affairs, was quoted as saying that the agenda for talks between the British leader and Chinese officials had “not been fixed”. However, Hong Kong’s future was certain to be discussed.
On September 21, Hong Kong governor Edward Youde flew to Beijing (then Peking) for the “crucial talks”. “Sir Edward, considered ‘Hongkong’s man’ in Mrs Thatcher’s team in Peking, told reporters at the airport that his trip was very important,” noted an article in the Post the following day.
From the moment Thatcher touched down in Hong Kong, her itinerary was packed. For the people of the city, however, details of her schedule were irrelevant. They were eager to hear the outcome, if any, of talks regarding the end of the New Territories lease, in 1997.
At her first, and only, press conference, at the Legislative Council on September 27, Thatcher fielded questions on Hong Kong’s future with the response that the common aim of Britain and China was to maintain the “stability and prosperity of Hongkong”.
“I have been at pains to stress that the British Government has a clear responsibility for the people of Hongkong: as leader of that Government, what matters to me is that we discharge our moral duty to them,” she said, according to the transcript published in the Post on September 28.
And with a “Goodbye and thank you so much,” Thatcher left, “ending the historic first visit by a serving British Prime Minister,” reported the Post on September 29.