Did Britain Fail Hong Kong?

Jun 2013
2,325
Siberia, deep in taiga
#2
There is a paragraph in the article about Chris Patton and his reforms, the last British governor. From what I read about him,
He lost his own seat in the House of Commons before he reluctantly accepted the posting as the last Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Hong Kong by the Tories - a "leftover" as a merciful gift for the Hong Kong people
Could it be that Patten tried to conduct his reforms because he knew UK would relinquish control soon and wished to create problems after the hand-over, using the name of democracy. In fact, he did changed some law, like relaxing the freedom of assembly and creating election for the legislative council, as the article says. That is probably a violation of the spirits of the joint declaration. Why did he only chose to do those when UK was soon losing the control and governing? Rather suspicious. It is like they were sowing the seeds for conflicts and confrontations in Hong Kong.

The problem is why people are rioting they can't select their government as far as I understand but it is condition of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the election and appointment of Hong Kong's Chief Executive that the Chief Executive will be appointed by the Central People's Government on the basis of results of elections or consultations to be held locally. As the party responsible for appointment of the Chief Executive, China would surely want to have some say in the selection of a suitable candidate for a post.

That is why I think there was a mistake to stipulate this condition but it was not failure of Hong Kong.
 
Nov 2011
8,782
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
#3
The writer's thesis contradicts itself. Maybe Britain did fail Hong Kong, but there was no alternative to the deal that was finally made that would not have led to far more pain than has emerged this last month.
I was in Hong Kong in the 1980s and it is hard for people who were not there to appreciate the utter panic that gripped the whole territory when it was clear that there was no alternative other than a return to China. Frankly, everyone, Chinese and European had been doing a Micawber for forty years hoping that something would turn up and the SAR deal seemed the only deal on the table--although not a single Hong Kong Chinese of my acquaintance expressed any trust in the mainlanders.
Ever since the 1967 riots it was clear that the UK could do little or nothing to prevent a Chinese mainland take-over, as virtually happened in Macau that year, short of nuking Beijing--so ever after there remained a high degree of kow-towing to Beijing (or Peking as it was still called). The place name even smoothly changed from the "Crown Colony of Hong Kong" to The "Territory of Hong Kong"--acknowledged as "Chinese territory under British Administration".
Although the existence of HK was immensely useful to the PRC right up to the late 1970s as a funnel of trade, foreign exchange, contacts and so on, HK relied on the mainland for its water, a substantial amount of foodstuffs, the safe use of its airspace and territorial waters and eventually even its electricity and (with work exported to Shenzen), its labour force.
For the British side to have created a form of local democracy before, say 1975, when Beijing started calling the shots would have been fraught with difficulty; the territory had pockets of Kuomingtang (they used to fly their flags on the rooftops of their flats), branches of the mainland CCP, plus a local variety, plus supporters of every splittist group since 1949--there were even supporters of a restoration of the Emperor. Add to them the Unions the Triads and more vested interest groups than you could count and any attempt at democracy would be a labour of Hercules; in any case, Beijing was happy to have teh Gwai-Loh running things, but would never accept another "Chinese" government as in Taiwan poking its tongue out at the mainland.
There WAS a window of opportunity that may or may not have been a missed chance to hang on to the place for a few years more. During the Chinese Civil War the UK naturally kept back channels open to the communists and still had a substantial presence in Shanghai. When it was obvious that the Communists were about to win in 1949, Chou En Lai approached one of the directors of Swire, who just happened to be Mi-6's man in Shanghai seeking British recognition of the People's Republic--the quid-pro-quo being a continued "favourable" trading relationship with China including entrenchment in HK. Swire's, the entire British business community and Mi-6 were dead keen and the position of HK could have been guaranteed. However the Labour Government in London were convinced by India's Nehru that the newly independent India should be the first non-communist country to recognise the PRC and it was duly so, with Britain only following in January 1950. The deal was still not closed as Britain was allowed to keep open its consulates in other Chinese cities and was on relatively friendly terms, but China expected Britain to support China's claim to the (Nationalist) UN seat and all the foreign assets of Chiang's Republic of China-- looking back, maybe Bevin should have taken the deal although--let's face it, by 1950 Britain did only what Washington told them to do.
 
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Belloc

Ad Honorem
Mar 2010
5,418
USA
#4
The writer's thesis contradicts itself. Maybe Britain did fail Hong Kong, but there was no alternative to the deal that was finally made that would not have led to far more pain than has emerged this last month.
I was in Hong Kong in the 1980s and it is hard for people who were not there to appreciate the utter panic that gripped the whole territory when it was clear that there was no alternative other than a return to China. Frankly, everyone, Chinese and European had been doing a Micawber for forty years hoping that something would turn up and the SAR deal seemed the only deal on the table--although not a single Hong Kong Chinese of my acquaintance expressed any trust in the mainlanders.
Ever since the 1967 riots it was clear that the UK could do little or nothing to prevent a Chinese mainland take-over, as virtually happened in Macau that year, short of nuking Beijing--so ever after there remained a high degree of kow-towing to Beijing (or Peking as it was still called). The place name even smoothly changed from the "Crown Colony of Hong Kong" to The "Territory of Hong Kong"--acknowledged as "Chinese territory under British Administration".
Although the existence of HK was immensely useful to the PRC right up to the late 1970s as a funnel of trade, foreign exchange, contacts and so on, HK relied on the mainland for its water, a substantial amount of foodstuffs, the safe use of its airspace and territorial waters and eventually even its electricity and (with work exported to Shenzen), its labour force.
For the British side to have created a form of local democracy before, say 1975, when Beijing started calling the shots would have been fraught with difficulty; the territory had pockets of Kuomingtang (they used to fly their flags on the rooftops of their flats), branches of the mainland CCP, plus a local variety, plus supporters of every splittist group since 1949--there were even supporters of a restoration of the Emperor. Add to them the Unions the Triads and more vested interest groups than you could count and any attempt at democracy would be a labour of Hercules; in any case, Beijing was happy to have teh Gwai-Loh running things, but would never accept another "Chinese" government as in Taiwan poking its tongue out at the mainland.
There WAS a window of opportunity that may or may not have been a missed chance to hang on to the place for a few years more. During the Chinese Civil War the UK naturally kept back channels open to the communists and still had a substantial presence in Shanghai. When it was obvious that the Communists were about to win in 1949, Chou En Lai approached one of the directors of Swire, who just happened to be Mi-6's man in Shanghai seeking British recognition of the People's Republic--the quid-pro-quo being a continued "favourable" trading relationship with China including entrenchment in HK. Swire's, the entire British business community and Mi-6 were dead keen and the position of HK could have been guaranteed. However the Labour Government in London were convinced by India's Nehru that the newly independent India should be the first non-communist country to recognise the PRC and it was duly so, with Britain only following in January 1950. The deal was still not closed as Britain was allowed to keep open its consulates in other Chinese cities and was on relatively friendly terms, but China expected Britain to support China's claim to the (Nationalist) UN seat and all the foreign assets of Chiang's Republic of China-- looking back, maybe Bevin should have taken the deal although--let's face it, by 1950 Britain did only what Washington told them to do.
Thanks for the extensive analysis.
 
Aug 2010
15,117
Welsh Marches
#6
Could it be that Patten tried to conduct his reforms because he knew UK would relinquish control soon and wished to create problems after the hand-over, using the name of democracy. In fact, he did changed some law, like relaxing the freedom of assembly and creating election for the legislative council, as the article says. That is probably a violation of the spirits of the joint declaration. Why did he only chose to do those when UK was soon losing the control and governing? Rather suspicious. It is like they were sowing the seeds for conflicts and confrontations in Hong Kong.
No, Patten was doing what he thought right, he was not deliberately trying to create trouble, that would have been counter-productive; of course one could argue that he should have tried to avoid trouble by approaching the matter in a a purely diplomatic manner, as many did argue at the time did argue, with some justification. In fact his action in instituting direct elections to the legislative council was politically inept, because the Chinese simply reversed the measure when they gained power in Hong Kong (initially resorting to an unconstitutional procedure), so Patten harmed Anglo-Chinese relations without actually achieving anything for the people of Hong Kong. Britain had no possible interest in sowing seeds of conflict in Hong Kong in the longer term, and Patten was not the kind of man in any case to tarnish himself through Realpolitik of such a kind. On the broader question, Patten's failure in this regard merely shows that Britain did not 'fail' Hong Kong, in the sense that it could have done more for the people of the territory and didn't. Its powers of action were very limited.
 
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Apr 2013
2,544
U.K.
#8
If we were going to reform China we'd have probably have had to push on out into China at the time that the original agreement was entered into. Would this have been possible. That was the time it seems to me to begin any social engineering of Chinese Society and to sow the seeds of early modern capitalism.

We were always going to lose a very small island at the edge of such a huge and foreign land mass.
 
#9
There is a paragraph in the article about Chris Patton and his reforms, the last British governor. From what I read about him,

Could it be that Patten tried to conduct his reforms because he knew UK would relinquish control soon and wished to create problems after the hand-over, using the name of democracy. In fact, he did changed some law, like relaxing the freedom of assembly and creating election for the legislative council, as the article says. That is probably a violation of the spirits of the joint declaration. Why did he only chose to do those when UK was soon losing the control and governing? Rather suspicious. It is like they were sowing the seeds for conflicts and confrontations in Hong Kong.

The problem is why people are rioting they can't select their government as far as I understand but it is condition of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the election and appointment of Hong Kong's Chief Executive that the Chief Executive will be appointed by the Central People's Government on the basis of results of elections or consultations to be held locally. As the party responsible for appointment of the Chief Executive, China would surely want to have some say in the selection of a suitable candidate for a post.

That is why I think there was a mistake to stipulate this condition but it was not failure of Hong Kong.
They never could have select their British governor either did they, what the current proposal is is STILL an election, if one that has more restriction then you'd like, but let us now pretend that western democracy don't set particular restrictions on candidates anyway.

If we are to argue that Hong Kong wasn't "ready" for democracy before the late 80s (which by the way, remained an extremely, MORE limited democracy up until the hand over versus today.) the same argument fail to explain why the process must fast forward NOW, instead of being another gradual step process that it has been for the past 30 years. or are we implying that Hong Kong has advanced far more in the 17 years since hand over than the 150 years it was under the Brit?