The history of democracy in Hong Kong is so short it doesn’t exist.
China never willingly gave Hong Kong to the British Empire in 1842. Instead, China lost Hong Kong during the Opium Wars, and later leased adjacent terrorists to the British under pressure in 1860 at the end of the Second Opium War when the UK gained a perpetual lease over the Kowloon Peninsula that’s across the strait from Hong Kong Island. This agreement was part of the Convention of Beijing that ended that war, a war started by England and France. In each case the British Empire, France, and the United States, were victorious and gained commercial privileges and legal and territorial concessions in China. The conflicts over the opium trade marked the start of the era of unequal treaties.
Then in 1898, the British and Chinese governments signed the Second Convention of Peking, which included a ninety-nine year lease agreement for the islands surrounding Hong Kong, called the New Territories.
Fast forward ninety-nine years; on December 19, 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and Britain agreed to return not only the New Territories but also Kowloon and Hong Kong itself when the lease term expired on July 1, 1997. China promised to implement a One Country, Two Systems policy, so for fifty years Hong Kong citizens could continue to practice capitalism and political freedoms forbidden on the mainland.
However, for most of its history under British rule, executive power in Hong Kong was concentrated in the hands of the colony governor, a position appointed by the British crown without any democratic input from Hong Kong citizens. The introduction of elected representatives determined by local elections was limited to the role of advisory councils, and that didn’t start until after the 1984 agreement by the British to hand Hong Kong over to China.
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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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