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Ke Hua at the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997. Photo: Handout

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s former father-in-law, diplomat Ke Hua, dies in Beijing at age 103

  • Ke was involved in early stages of Sino-British talks on Hong Kong’s future in the 1980s
  • His youngest daughter Ke Lingling was Xi’s first wife but their three-year marriage ended in 1982
President Xi Jinping’s former father-in-law, who was involved in the early stages of Sino-British talks on Hong Kong’s future in the early 1980s, died in Beijing on Tuesday at the age of 103.

Ke Hua’s youngest daughter, Ke Lingling, was Xi’s first wife. Their three-year marriage ended in 1982 and she subsequently moved to Britain.

In 1954, Ke Hua joined China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and became the first person to take up the post of director general of its protocol department. In 1960, he became China’s first envoy to an African country with his appointment as ambassador to Guinea.

Ke in Britain in 1978. Photo: Handout

He served as director general of the ministry’s department of Asian affairs in the mid-1970s and was appointed China’s ambassador to Britain in 1978.

In July 1982, Ke discussed the future of Hong Kong with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when he hosted a dinner for the “Iron Lady” at the Chinese embassy in London.

Thatcher, who a month earlier had led Britain to victory against Argentina in the Falklands war, insisted that the three treaties signed in the 19th century between the Qing dynasty and Britain concerning Hong Kong were still valid. She argued that Britain should rule the city for another 30 to 50 years after the lease expired in 1997.

Ke with his family in an undated photo. Photo: Handout

Two months later, Ke was present at the historic meeting between Thatcher and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in Beijing.

Deng told the British prime minister that sovereignty was not a matter which could be discussed and Beijing would certainly take control of the city in 1997.


After the meeting, Thatcher stumbled on the stairs outside the Great Hall of the People where the talks were held. The slip-up was caught on camera and shown many times in Hong Kong.

The two governments later held formal talks and signed the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s future in 1984.

Ke (right) with then-premier Zhou Enlai (centre) in the 1960s. Photo: Handout

Ke returned to China in 1983 and became a consultant of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. He became a member of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 1988.

Because of his involvement in the discussions on Hong Kong’s future, the Chinese government invited him to the handover ceremony on June 30, 1997, to witness the return of the city’s sovereignty to China.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing envoy at the start of Sino-British talks dies at 103