From 1997: “Hong Kong on the auction block”

1997 Hong Kong handover

We republish, below, the editorial from Workers’ Liberty magazine 39, April 1997. The editorial took a position that was unusual on the left, denouncing the Thatcher government’s betrayal of the Hong Kong people’s right to self-determination and the hand-over to China. Even so, it seems unlikely that the author(s) of the editorial envisaged the vicious crackdown that was to come. At the time the people of Hong Kong were promised 50 years of freedom of assembly, speech and press not permitted on the mainland. Now, those promises (contained in the “one country, two systems” policy) have evaporated. Yesterday (30 June 2022) the Chinese president Xi Jiping, arrived to a staged reception attended by hand-picked supporters. Today there will be an event in the city marking a quarter of a century under Beijing’s rule. Local and foreign media have been banned (supposedly because of covid) and no protests are likely, since protests are outlawed and when they last ocurred, ruthlessly crushed. Schools are now required to teach lessons on “patriotism” and “national security.” John Lee, who as head of security, directed the crackdown on the pro-democarcy movement, will today be inaugurated as the new chief executive, replacing Carrie Lamb, the vicious puppet of Beijing who oversaw the crackdown that began in earnest in 2019. Lee has promised an even more draconian approach to counter what he calls “fearmongering and badmouthing” by anyone who doesn’t to the Beijing line.


A century and half a go Britain was the great world power, the pioneer and bearer of a new type of production by steam-driven machinery; her navy ruled the world’s seas. By contrast, China was an ancient civilisation, grown decrepit and spiralling into decay and disintegration.

Britain fought a series of wars to force China to open its borders to opium from British-ruled India – the “opium wars”. Britain forced the Chinese imperial state to hand over the territories that are now Hong Kong. This was shameful, brutal imperialism.

In the middle of 1997, the forced “unequal treaty” that gave Hong Kong to Britain expires. Hong Kong goes back under Beijing rule.

The end of British rule in Hong Kong will be no less shameful than its beginning. In fact it will be worse.

150 years ago, a thinly populated barren territory was taken from a corrupt autocratic government with no democratic mandate. On 1 July 1997 4 million people who have a distinct identity and a long history separate from that of China will be handed over to the totalitarian neo-Stalinist government of mainland China.

Nobody asked the people of Hong Kong what they want, for the good reason that it is already known. The handover to Beijing takes place against the will of the big majority of the Hong Kong people. Mrs Thatcher made the treacherous agreement with Beijing’s neo-Stalinists under which Hong Kong will be handed over; the British Tory government has done all it can in the last 15 years to ensure a smooth handover, acting as the trustee and agent in Hong Kong of the totalitarian government of Beijing.

In order not to embarrass Beijing or make the transition difficult, they have made sure that there would be no democratically elected Hong Kong legislature that could act as a focus for resistance and prove difficult for the neo-Stalinists to suppress.

British Tories have acted as enforcers and advance trouble shooters for Chinese Stalinism! Now they are about to deliver the people of Hong Kong to them, politically bound hand and foot.

The only half-way serious political argument for handing over Hong Kong like this is that the territory and the people are a natural part of “China” and that the ‘nationality principle’ overrides everything else.

Nobody but a mystical Chinese nationalist would think that consideration decisive. There are higher things than the nationality principle – the right of the people of Hong Kong to enjoy what they have of liberty; their right not to be forced under neo-Stalinist rule; their right to democratic government; their right to self-determination. Compared to China, Hong Kong’s liberties are considerable. Despite its lack of democratic self-government, compared with neo-Stalinist China, Hong Kong is an oasis of human freedom.

Hong Kong is separated from the state which on 1 July takes it over by an entire progressive epoch of human history.

Not principle, but the relationship of forces in the area – where China is now strong and Britain comparatively weak – and British commercial calculations, determine what is going to happen on 1 July. This “handing back” of this Hong Kong now will be more shameful and brutal than was Britain’s land grab 150 years ago.

Even at the eleventh hour it is worthwhile saying what the British government would have said if Thatcher were a consistent democrat and not a Tory: Hong Kong should not “go back” to Chinese control unless the majority of its people want that. Hong Kong should be allowed to elect a democratic parliament to look out for its interests.

Self-determination is an essential element of democracy. Those who are not for self-determination for distinct entities are not democrats.

We say: self-determination for Hong Kong!

2 thoughts on “From 1997: “Hong Kong on the auction block”

  1. I recommend the film ‘Revolution of Our Times’ which can now be streamed for £ 9 on Vimeo. Quite disturbing. I’m not quite sure what to make of the very young Hong Kongers out on the streets causing mayhem and throwing Molotov cocktails. Even though they weren’t around in 1997 they have hatred and distrust of the Red Chinese regime. Remember, most of their ancestors escaped from Red China, some swimming across the river with nothing, searching for a better life.

    Many of the protesters are just school students, even 11 year olds among them, joining in secretly without their parents’ knowledge. I wondered if they are thugs in search of a ‘good punch-up’ but no, they have a deep fear of a future under President She’s Red China rule with the loss of their freedom. I was reminded by a report today that Joshua Wong, now in jail, was just 14 when he was prominently involved with the ‘Umbrella movement’ protest just a few years ago.

    If you don’t fancy paying £ 9 or spending two and a half hours watching this at least have a look at this week’s BBC Panorama about Hong Kong.

    I’m not sure what the UK government could have done better back in the 1980s. Quote from above (1997): ‘Hong Kong should not “go back” to Chinese control unless the majority of its people want that. Hong Kong should be allowed to elect a democratic parliament to look out for its interests.’ A laudable thought but how would that have worked out? Probably would have ended up in the same situation as now, but even sooner at the very least.

    Spare a thought for the people of Hong Kong and mourn the loss of freedom there. Loss of the free press too, until recently the centre of business with respected newspapers and magazines for East Asia. Now Tokyo is left as the media hub reporting about the region with the English language Nikkei Asia taking over from a free press that was based in HK for decades and decades.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Even by the craven standards of the Morning Star (whose coverage of anything concerning China amounts to straightforward CCP propaganda), this article by one Kenny Coyle (MS 2-3 July) is pretty breath-taking:

    “Hong Kong: truth is out

    The image in Western media of a city writhing under a police state is belied by the reality on the ground.
    Bars and restaurants are busy, as any five-minute evening walk around my Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood in Kowloon shows, supermarket shelves are full and whatever the talking heads of the local CNN or BBC bureaus would have you believe about ‘threats to freedom’ on screen, they still somehow managed to prop up the main bar in the Foreign Correspondents Club each evening after their shifts.
    Rarely has Western mainstream propaganda so successfully shrouded the truth about a society as open as Hong Kong’s.”

    Like

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