The Fate of Hong Kong

“Unusually for observers of current affairs, we already know the outcome of a major international issue: Hong Kong will be returned to China,” writes Gerald Segal. “However, we do not know what shape Hong Kong will be in when it is delivered to China, what kind of China will be there to receive it, or what will be the reactions of the major interested parties.”

As the 1980’s dawned, the People’s Republic of China made clear that it expected Hong Kong to revert to its rule in 1997, when Britain’s 99-year lease on the “New Territories” runs out. The outcome of negotiations concluded in 1984 was never in serious doubt. In only one of the situation’s rich, complex ironies, China could take over Hong Kong simply by ceasing to supply it with food and water. But China does not want a shell of a territory; it wants a still-thriving Hong Kong to continue contributing to its economy. The 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square gave many Hong Kong residents and observers pause. As 1997 approaches many are hedging their bets, in classic Hong Kong fashion. (Even the venerable firm Jardine, Matheson already has moved its headquarters to Bermuda.) The British failure ever to have installed democratic institutions in Hong Kong can be seen now as a grave error; yet China wouldn’t have allowed it in any case. And just what is China, anyway? Is the People’s Republic the “legitimate” government of “China”?

Hong Kong’s situation offers many more questions than answers, and will be fascinating, if nerve-wracking, to watch as 1997 approaches and passes. THE FATE OF HONG KONG offers well-founded, lucid analysis of the present situation, and where things might go from here. The book’s first section briefly traces the colony’s history. The longer second section includes chapters on various countries’ and regions’ likely future dealings with Hong Kong, treating in succession China, Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, East Asia, and Europe.

THE FATE OF HONG KONG is well written but more suited to businesspeople than to the general reader. A much livelier, more entertaining book is HONG KONG (1985, 1989) by the eminent travel writer Jan Morris.