How did the Chinese Government settle the question of Hong Kong through negotiations?
2000/11/15
The question of Hong Kong is left over by history. Hong Kong, which includes Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories, has been Chinese territory since ancient times. In l840, Britain provoked the Opium War and forced the Qing government to sign the Treaty of Nanjing in l842, formally ceding Hong Kong Island to the British. In l856, the British-French allied troops initiated the second Opium War. In l860, Britain forced the Qing government to sign the Treaty of Beijing, ceding the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. In l898, taking advantage of western imperialist powers scrambling to carve up Chinese territory, Britain again forced the Qing government to sign the "Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory" that compelled China to lease to Britain the vast northern section of the Boundary Street of the Kowloon Peninsula, plus more than 200 nearby islands (later collectively known as the New territories). This 99-year lease would expire on June 30, l997. The Chinese people had consistently been opposed to the three unequal treaties mentioned above.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Government has consistently stated its position that Hong Kong has been part of Chinese territory and China does not recognize the three unequal treaties imposed on China by the imperialists. The Chinese Government has consistently held that at the appropriate time, a negotiated solution to the question would be found; until then, the status quo would be maintained.

After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese people began to work for the three major tasks of socialist modernization, the reunification of the motherland and opposition to hegemonism, and safeguarding world peace. Deng Xiaoping put forward the concept of "one country, two systems" to solve the question of Taiwan and Hong Kong. And with 1997 drawing near, the British were eager to sound out China's position and attitude towards finding a solution to the question of Hong Kong. Under these circumstances, the time for solving the Hong Kong question was ripe.

Negotiations between the Chinese and British governments on Hong Kong were divided into two stages: the first began in September l982, when the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited China, to June l983; the two sides engaged mainly in discussions regarding matters of principle and procedures. The second stage began in July l983, when the two government delegations held 22 rounds of talks on concrete and substantive questions, to September l984.

Deng Xiaoping met with Mrs.Thatcher on September 24, l982. The Chinese Premier had held talks with her before this meeting. And Chinese leaders formally informed the British side that the Chinese Government had decided to recover all of the Hong Kong region in l997. Also, China offered assurances that it would initiate special policies after recovering Hong Kong. These would include establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the people of Hong Kong administering Hong Kong and maintenance of Hong Kong's current social and economic systems and way of life. Mrs..Thatcher, however, insisted on the validity of the three unequal treaties, proposing that if China agreed to Britain's continued administration of Hong Kong after l997, Britain might later consider the demand for sovereignty put forward by China. To

counter Mrs.Thatcher's arguments, Deng Xiaoping made important remarks at their meeting. After this talk, the two sides agreed to hold discussions on Hong Kong through diplomatic channels. In the following six months, consultations made no progress because the British position remained unchanged regarding its sovereignty over Hong Kong. In March l983, Mrs. Thatcher wrote to the Chinese Premier, in which she guaranteed that at certain stage she would suggest to the British Parliament that it return the sovereignty over Hong Kong to China. In the following month, the Chinese premier informed her in a letter of reply that the Chinese Government would agree to hold negotiations as soon as possible.

On July 12 and 13, l983, the delegations from the Chinese and British governments began to hold the first round of negotiations. Owing to British insistence of its continued administration of Hong Kong after l997, the negotiations made no progress until the fourth round. In September 1983 when meeting with the visiting former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Deng Xiaoping said that negotiations would get nowhere if Britain simply tried to exchange its continued administration with token sovereignty. He persuaded the British side to change its attitude to avoid a situation in which China felt it must unilaterally announce in September l984 policies pertaining to the solution of the Hong Kong question. In October, a letter from the British Prime Minister stated that both sides should hold discussions on permanent arrangements for Hong Kong on the basis of China's proposal. In the fifth and sixth rounds of talks, the British side affirmed it would not insist on British administration of Hong Kong, nor seek joint control in any form. The British also recognized that China's plan was established on the precondition that after l997 Hong Kong's sovereignty and right of control should return to China. Up to then, major obstacles involved in Sino-British negotiations had been cleared away.

Beginning from the seventh round of negotiations held in December l983, Sino-British negotiations proceeded on the basis of the Chinese government's basic policies for the settlement of the Hong Kong question. According to the Chinese Government's basic policies, the future Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the HKSAR) is to come directly under the Central government of the People's Republic of China and the HKSAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy except in foreign and defense affairs, which will be the responsibilities of the central government. The Chinese Central Government will station military forces in the HKSAR to be responsible for its defense. The government of the HKSAR will be composed of local people, but British and other foreign nationals may be employed by the regional government as advisors or officials, up to deputy secretaries of departments, The British side, despite its prior clear promise not to put forward any proposals running counter to the principle of Chinese sovereignty, repeatedly advanced ideas that breached its promise. For example, it opposed Hong Kong's status as an administrative region directly under the authority of China's central government by repeatedly proposing " a maximum degree of autonomy" to revise the meaning of Chinese idea of " a high degree of autonomy". The British side also repeatedly asked China to promise not to station troops in Hong Kong, in an attempt to restrict Chinese resumption of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. It further asked for the setting up of a representative office headed by a "British Commissioner" which was different in nature from the Consul-Generals of other countries in Hong Kong, in an attempt to turn the future HKSAR into a member or quasi-member of the British Commonwealth. The British side also proposed that foreign national s holding Hong Kong's identity cards might serve at all levels of the civil service "up to the highest posts", and further requested that the Chinese side promise to inherit, and leave intact after l997 the structure of the British Hong Kong government and possible changes to the structure to be made by the British side during the transitional period. With these proposals, the British side in essence wanted to turn Hong Kong into some kind of an independent or semi-independent political entity British can control, with a view to countering the principle of Chinese sovereignty. Naturally, these proposals met with strong opposition from and were rejected by the Chinese side.

In April 1984, after the 12th round of negotiations, the two sides began discussing arrangements in Hong Kong's transitional period and matters concerning the transfer of government.

The two sides reached agreement through negotiations that China will recover Hong Kong and resume the exercise of sovereignty over it. This must be expressed in clear terms in their agreement. The British side did not accept the wording of "resumption of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong" suggested by the Chinese side, whereas the Chinese side strongly objected to British agreement drafts implying the validity of the three unequal treaties. Finally, the two sides agreed to use the following way of expression in the form of a Joint Declaration:" The Government of the People's Republic of China declares that it has decided to resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong with effect from l July 1997;" and" The Government of the United Kingdom declares that it will restore Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China with effect from l July l997." The way of expression concerning sovereignty was therefore settled in this way.

In the following three rounds of negotiations, the two sides discussed a number of specific matters that are fairly complicated in terms of policy and technicality such as nationality, civil aviation and land. Both sides also held repeated consultations on the language of their agreement. On September 18, l984, the two sides reached agreement on all matters. On September 26, 1984, a Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and three Annexes were initialed. Negotiations between the Chinese and British governments on Hong Kong, which had lasted for two years, therefore came to a successful conclusion. On December 19, l984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong was formally signed by the heads of the two governments in Beijing. On May 27, l985, the two governments exchanged instruments of ratification of the Joint Declaration in Beijing. From then on, the Sino-British Joint Declaration formally went into effect.

At midnight of June 30, l997, the Chinese and British governments held a ceremony on the transfer of government in Hong Kong and the Chinese Government formally resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong.

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