Margaret Thatcher and Hong Kong


Margaret Thatcher 1982

Margaret Thatcher's funeral was scarcely three days ago, on 17 April, 2013. She was before my time, I grew up in a world of Tony Blair and John Howard and I never really gave her that much attention, despite who or what she was or may have been. My mother took the occasion (right before my Networking exam on Thursday) to give me a little history lesson though, about Margaret Thatcher and the people of Hong Kong. For them, she was someone of importance. Now in what way I'm not entirely sure - was it she herself who was considered important or what she had done?

In any case, the quotes below can give you some idea of her involvement with Hong Kong in the 80s around 1982, again in 1984 and 1997. My parents were living in Hong Kong then, my dad working at the University of Hong Kong, I believe, and my mum as a supervisor in a company. I'm not sure what either of their roles are, but you can be sure if they stayed their lives would be very different today, and likely mine.

During [Margaret Thatcher's] time in power the key issue between London and Beijing was the future of the then-British colony in southern China, where Britain's lease on the New Territories area of Hong Kong was to expire in 1997.
Although Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, the control on the New Territories was a 99-year lease. The finite nature of the 99-year lease did not hinder Hong Kong's development as the New Territories were combined as a part of Hong Kong.
...there was no physical border between these ceded portions and the New Territories, and no way in which Britain could defend or sustain the ceded portions if China wanted to take them back together with the New Territories.

Thatcher believed that Hong Kong rightfully belonged to Britain, but China had other ideas. I won't go into detail about this - there are plenty of other detail-ridden sources out there that would be more accurate than my jumbled accounts of different articles I've read, but you can be sure that as China insisted on reclaiming the sovereignty of Hong Kong, many people in Hong Kong were worried about how Communist rule of the Mainland Chinese would affect their lives and began to flee the country.

Many of them ended up in places like here, like Australia. Why? This was one of the criticisms (or so it seemed like one) that my mother had, that although Thatcher had put up a fight to keep Hong Kong under British sovereignty and ultimately lost the battle, she did not offer Britain as a place to go to. She did not give them a way out. Emily Lau, a former reporter and current legislator is quoted saying:

...the former British prime minister “didn’t look after the well-being of Hong Kong people.”

But she clearly had no intentions of ever offering that anyway.

If Britain had to accept even a fraction of the population of Hong Kong, it would be political suicide.

When she came down the stairs from the Great Hall of the People to Tiananmen Square and tripped before the cameras, it was taken as her 'kowtowing' to the people of Hong Kong in apology. Or whatever other reason they envisioned.

It's scary to think how I would not be here if not for this. Recently visiting my remaining relations in Hong Kong, my mother alluded back to their lives we had glimpsed, saying how we would definitely have a servant or two working for us (specifically Filipino maids), how she and my father would have been in much better and higher positions if they had remained in the companies they had worked for instead of immigrating. Pay is also much better in Hong Kong and when they arrived here, they had to work again from the ground up. Such are tales of immigrants.

Instead, they worked another year in Hong Kong because my father had not accumulated enough work experience, then they applied to immigrate to Australia (as a skilled worker), arriving here in April, 1986.

Some families who immigrated here during that time have moved back since, seeking fortune as the pay in Hong Kong is much better than Australia. But once their working lives are over, aim to move back to Australia. Would I live in Hong Kong now? I don't know. I love the city and the culture of it, I love the transport system, I like the lifestyle. But what comes after 2046 is anyone's guess.