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Hong Kong - History

The governors of China’s provinces and autonomous regions and mayors of its centrally controlled municipalities are appointed by the central government in Beijing after receiving the nominal consent of the National People’s Congress (NPC). The Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions (SARs) have some local autonomy since they have separate governments, legal systems, and basic constitutional laws, but they come under Beijing’s control in matters of foreign affairs and national security, and their chief executives are handpicked by the central government. China has two special administrative regions, Hong Kong (Xianggang in Putonghua) and Macau (Aomen in Putonghua).

An island on the coast of China, at the mouth of the Canton River, Hong Kong is half a mile from the mainland. Hong Kong was occupied by the British in 1841. As a result of the First Anglo-Chinese War (1842), China ceded Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. In 1860 the British acquired in perpetuity the Kowloon (Jiulong) Peninsula and Stonecutters Island under the Convention of Beijing. The remaining area, the New Territories, was leased for 99 years in 1898.

The importance of Hong Kong lay not in its production, but rather in its geographical position — the key, for Britain, to the Orient. Most of the trade with Japan and China passed via or through Hong Kong. There were, however, some valuable products; and the industries were very successful and profitable. Cotton was spun, sugar refined, liquors brewed, and cement manufactured. There were knitting works, rope works, flour mills, and ship yards. The fishing industry was good. Most of Hong Kong's trade was with Great Britain, India, Australia, Germany, and the United States. Some of the leading articles of trade in the country were: opium, sugar, flour, salt, earthenware, oil, amber, cotton and cloths, sandal wood, rice, coal, timber, hemp, kerosene oil, ivory, betel, vegetables, live stock, and granite. Hong Kong companies controlled the Chinese silk trade, for the most part.

Almost immediately after the establishment of the People's Republic of China on the mainland in 1949, the Chinese government began a program of infiltration and sought to wield influence over the affairs of the British colony which remained in Hong Kong. Once it became clear that the British were not leaving Hong Kong, China reached a modus vivendi with the British colonial government which permitted China, isolated from much of the world after the Korean War, to use Hong Kong as a kind of entrepot for contact with the non-socialist world. Much of China's foreign exchange was earned through Chinese-controlled enterprises based in Hong Kong and from direct sales to Hong Kong of basic commodities. Surplus population and individual malcontents were allowed to flee across China's border with Hong Kong; eventually, almost two million refugees entered Hong Kong from 1949 until the late 1960s.

Despite its status as one of the United Kingdom's last remaining colonies (or ``Dependent Territories,'' in quaint British usage), Hong Kong had come to enjoy considerable economic prosperity and rather extensive civil and political liberties during the two decades immediately preceding its return to Chinese sovereignty. The formal instruments of government were controlled by the appointed Governor; the nominal legislature, Hong Kong's Legislative Council, was hardly a democratic body. Its 56 members were either personally selected by the governor (20 non-official members) or elected by professional bodies and district boards (26 non-official members). An additional ten members were public servants, who served by virtue of their official positions (10 official members). Yet, despite the undemocratic nature of their selection, in the decade preceding 1997, the membership of the Legislative Council had come to include (by appointment and election) a reasonably large group of younger, outspoken members who voiced the concerns of the Hong Kong citizenry.

By the early 1980s, attention began to focus on the 1997 deadline for return of the leased New Territories (which account for over 90 percent of Hong Kong's total land area) to China under the terms of an 1898 treaty. China made it clear that it would not countenance any continuation of British control and that it intended to resume sovereignty. As a practical matter, the rest of Hong Kong would have to revert along with the New Territories. Initial resistance to China's stance, contemplated by then-British Prime Minister Thatcher (flush from her victory in the Falklands), was later prudently abandoned in the face of Chinese resolve.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong was signed between the Chinese and British Governments in 1984. During his meeting with the visiting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on September 24, 1982, Deng Xiaoping made clear the Chinese government's position on the question of Hong Kong, pointing out that sovereignty was not a matter for discussion and that China would take back Hong Kong in 1997. It was under this premise that China and Britain would negotiate to ensure the smooth transfer of Hong Kong and clarify what was to be done about Hong Kong 15 years later. This marked the beginning of the negotiations between China and Britain on the question of Hong Kong.

On December 19, 1984, after 22 rounds of negotiations, the governments of China and Britain signed the Joint Declaration of the Government of the People's Republic of China and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the Question of Hong Kong in Beijing, confirming that the government of the PRC would resume its exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong with effect from July 1, 1997. The Chinese government also made clear in the Joint Declaration its basic policies regarding Hong Kong based on the "12 Principles." The signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration marked the entry of Hong Kong into a 13-year transition period before its return to China. During this period, the Chinese government unswervingly followed the "one country, two systems" policy, closely relied on the Hong Kong compatriots, and resolutely held off interference to promote the preparation work for Hong Kong's return.

On April 10, 1985, the Third Session of the Sixth NPC decided to form the Drafting Committee for the Basic Law of the HKSAR of the PRC. In July, the Drafting Committee began its work. It completed its mission in February 1990, taking four years and eight months to develop the Basic Law of Hong Kong. The drafting of the Basic Law of Hong Kong was highly democratic and open, and the compatriots of Hong Kong were widely involved. Twenty-three of the 59 members of the Drafting Committee came from various walks of life in Hong Kong, and the Drafting Committee entrusted its Hong Kong members to set up a 180-member counseling committee in Hong Kong to collect the views and opinions of the people of Hong Kong.

In April 1988, the Drafting Committee published the Basic Law of Hong Kong (draft) for comments, and in February 1989 the Standing Committee of the NPC made public the Basic Law of the HKSAR (draft) and twice widely solicited views in Hong Kong and on the mainland. People from all walks of life in Hong Kong and the mainland took active part in the deliberation and discussion of the draft, and in Hong Kong alone nearly 80,000 files of views and comments were collected. The Basic Law of Hong Kong embodies the common will of all Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots, and encapsulates the wisdom of the Chinese nation. On April 4, 1990, the Third Session of the Seventh NPC passed the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, and made the decision to establish the HKSAR.

The entire colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Although originally the 1,092-square-kilometer area was part of Guangdong Province, the Hong Kong SAR reports directly to the State Council in Beijing. The head of state of Hong Kong is the president of China. The head of government is a Beijing appointee.

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Page last modified: 30-09-2014 19:04:55 ZULU