Deng Ziao Ping with the Gooey Putty Lady (Photo source: Wikimedia)
Quite frankly, it is nobody’s business how China rules Hong Kong. It belongs to them now.
Hong Kong is going to elect a new Chief Executive in 2017 and Britain has begun behaving like a birth mother who feels she has some say in the way the child is raised. There is a buzz going around and bets being placed on whether China will adhere to the understanding with Britain to allow Hong Kong citizens the universal suffrage, one-man-one-vote that democracies have, in the coming election or whether China will hand-pick candidates for the Hong Kong citizens to choose from (much like Iranian elections).
The Brits are concerned that the one country-two sytems agreement that Margaret Thatcher signed with Deng Ziao Ping in 1984 will be discarded.
But alas, the great white civilized folk of the west have to realize that today’s China has a substantially larger middle finger and won’t hesitate to say, “ F–k you, Tommy, up yours. Its our time now. You mind your business. Go back to your Derbys, your Wimbledon and your James Bond, old chap. Jolly good show.”
China actually did say the above, though not exactly in those words. It was September 1982 and the Iron Lady was flush with the afterglow over Argentina’s defeat in the Falklands War. She was visiting China to hold talks with the Chinese strongman, Deng Ziao Ping, on the governance of Hong Kong after 1997 when it would be handed over to China. Thatcher assumed that her haughty imperialistic attitude would prevail and Deng would be a pushover.
Britain was pushing for some sort of a governing position even after 1997. To this end, Thatcher began engaging in a media campaign trying to create a kind of panic that if the British left, there would be a flight of capital from Hong Kong and it would degrade and collapse as a financial hub. In her mind (and most other white-skinned folk of that era) only the British were capable of managing the Hong Kong financial super-structure. (Remember what happened to the oh-so-propah Barings Bank in 1995? Ha Ha Ho Ho).
Thatcher’s stance was like a replay of the Indian situation four decades prior, when during the negotiations leading up to India’s independence, the British wanted to retain control of the Indian industrial and financial sectors, arguing that only they had the expertise to govern them and that the Indians were not educated enough.
During one of the many sittings, some Bertie Wooster-ish British official shouted in annoyance, “If all this is left to Indians, the whole thing will soon turn into a mess.” Almost immediately, Mahatma Gandhi responded coldly and calmly,” Maybe so, my dear Sir, but it shall be our mess and we will like to sort through it by ourselves, with no British interference whatsoever.” The limey shut up after that.
Good riddance. July 1, 1997. Note Prince Charles looking crestfallen, extreme right. (Photo courtesy:Wikimedia)
As regards Hong Kong, the fact of the matter was actually quite different from the British argument that Hong Kong’s financial hub would collapse. To Thatcher it would be politically intolerable to be seen to give in to the diktats of a communist strongman and an Asian. She subscribed to the concept of a grand British Empire more fiercely than any other Prime Minister since Churchill. If the yielding of Hong Kong was inevitable, she wanted to at least be seen to go down fighting. She wanted the world to see the transfer of sovereignty as a ‘handing over’, rather than a repossession that it actually would be.
As her visit and the deliberations with her Chinese counterpart, Prime Minister Zhao Ziang, progressed, it became apparent that quite the opposite was happening actually. There was open antagonism where diplomatic decorum was stretched to it’s limits. Britain’s ambassador to Beijing, Percy Cradock, termed China’s leaders as an “incorrigible and ineducable” group who were “blinkered by dogma and national pride”. China’s negotiators retorted that their British counterparts had a “colonialist and imperialist attitude” which was “outmoded, lacking in reality and would get nowhere”. No kidding.
At one point, a bit irritated, the Chinese leader decided it was time to put the arrogant woman in her place. He said to her across the table, his face taking on an annoyed look, his words like a battering ram, “You do realize that we can walk in and take over Hong Kong in one afternoon if we wish, don’t you?”
Deng’s bluntness turned the Iron Lady to Putty Lady. She blurted,” Of course, we realize that there is nothing we can do to stop you, except for pursuing the matter through diplomatic channels….”
Thatcher was snubbed once more when she hosted her farewell banquet and Deng chose to be unavailable. He was busy receiving the North Korean leader, Kim Il-Sung, instead, at the time.
Let’s just take a walk back into history a bit further. Hong Kong, solidly a part of mainland China, was grabbed by the Brits after the First Opium War of 1839-42, a war that was begun by them when the Chinese government seized a shipment of the highly addictive drug, opium, which British trading companies were harvesting from British held Afghanistan and regularly smuggling into China, under the full protection of the British Navy.
The British government was incensed at the seizure and with its vastly superior military power, sought immediate and violent reprisal. Thus began the First Opium War, a conflict started by an aggressor with blatant criminality, bent upon getting an entire population hooked on a dangerous drug, for profit. At the end of it, in 1842, China was forced to sign a painfully unequal treaty, the Treaty of Nanking, and cede Hong Kong.
This morning I was listening to some stuffy British politician on BBC, holding forth in that snooty and frankly annoying Oxford accent on how democracy and free speech are threatened in Hong Kong. Was there any equality and free speech in Hong Kong when The Brits were ruling it?
If I had been the interviewer, the gentleman would have found the microphone at a place in his anatomy, the exact location of which, I will leave you to imagine. (Hint: It rhymes with ‘spinster’).