Hong Kong Handover

In the last programme in this series of The Reunion, Sue MacGregor brings together five people who helped pave the way for the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China.

Hong Kong's 28th and last Governor Lord Chris Patten; General Bryan Dutton who was head of the British garrison; diplomat Hugh Davies who led the British negotiating team in the colony; legislator and pro-democracy campaigner Emily Lau lost her job on the stroke of midnight and influential Hong Kong businessman Sir David Tang who waved the British off.

In Hong Kong the clock was always ticking. Unlike her other colonial possessions Hong Kong was only ever on lease to Britain. A 99 year lease set to expire on the 30th of June 1997 when the territory would automatically revert to Chinese rule. By the eighties Hong Kong was the busiest container port in the word and the economic gateway to China. But no-one really knew what would happen in 97 when the lease ran out.

The killing of hundreds of demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, an act which brought a million people on to the streets of Hong Kong in protest, turned acquiescence at the thought of Chinese rule into fear. Hong Kong people started leaving in droves. Between 1984 and 1997 one sixth of the Hong Kong population emigrated, 66,000 in 1992 alone.

As Britain's withdrawal got underway there was still heated debate over how China would run the colony in the future. The 1984 Sino British Joint Declaration had provided a roadmap for Hong Kong's future but the devil was in the detail. Heated exchanges were still going on minutes before the highly orchestrated handover ceremony in which Governor Patten came face to face with those who had denounced him as a 'serpent' and a 'wrongdoer' who would be condemned for a thousand generations'.

Producer: Emily Williams
A Whistledown Production for BBC Radio 4.

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45 minutes

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Fri 4 May 2012 09:00