Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech signing the Joint Declaration

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Great Hall of the People, Beijing
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

The signing ceremony took place between 1730 and 1800 local time. The text MT had in front of her is also on this site.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1054
Themes: Foreign policy (Asia), British policy towards Hong Kong

Your Excellency Chairman Deng Xiaoping, Your Excellency President Li Xiannian, Your Excellency Premier Zhao Ziyang, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is an historic occasion and I am particularly pleased to see that Chairman Deng Xiaoping is able to be present.

The Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong which we have just signed on behalf of our two Governments, is a landmark in the life of the Territory, in the course of Anglo-Chinese relations, and in the history of international diplomacy.

The Agreement establishes a firm basis for confidence in Hong Kong up to 1997 and beyond, and for its continued stability, prosperity and growth.

I remember with pleasure my last visit to China in September 1982 and my discussions with Chinese Leaders. At my meeting with Chairman Deng Xiaoping on that occasion, we agreed to open talks on the future of Hong Kong. Our common aim was to maintain the Territory's stability and prosperity. [end p1]

It is in a spirit of pride and of optimism about the future that I now return to sign the Agreement, which is the result of these talks.

I know you will agree that the negotiations were not always easy. At certain points, there were difficult decisions to be made on both sides. There were moments of tension. To overcome these difficulties, we needed to draw on a shared fund of goodwill, on friendship, and on a common commitment to Hong Kong's future. This was what made success possible, and I should like to pay tribute to the dedication of the two negotiating teams and all their supporting staffs, under the guidance of Sir Geoffrey Howe and the State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Wu Xuequian. It is thanks to the imagination and resource which they showed that we can sign the Agreement today.

The Agreement fully meets the political requirements of Britain and China, as well as the interests of the Hong Kong people. It provides a framework in which, as a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China, Hong Kong will maintain its economic systems and way of life for fifty years after 1 July 1997. It gives Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong people will administer Hong Kong and the Special Administrative Region will pass its own legislation.

It allows Hong Kong to continue to decide its own economic, financial and trade policies and to participate as appropriate in international organizations and agreements. [end p2]

It preserves Hong Kong's familiar legal system and the rights and freedoms enjoyed there.

In short, it provides the assurances for the future which Hong Kong needs in order to continue to play its unique role in the world as a trading and financial centre.

These qualities in the Agreement have been recognized by the British Parliament and by the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress of China, which have approved the intention of our Governments to proceed to signature.

The Agreement has been subject to a thorough public debate among those whose future it will determine—the people of Hong Kong. Although they have expressed some reservations and sought clarification on particular points, they have clearly judged it to be acceptable to them as a whole.

The Agreement has been widely praised by other Governments and international organizations and in financial and economic circles. Javier Perez de CuellarThe Secretary-General of the United Nations has described it as an example for other countries of the way in which difficult international problems can be successfully resolved.

International goodwill and support will be vital for Hong Kong in the future, and I have no doubt that it will be forthcoming.

I should like to pay a tribute to the Leaders of China for the vision and farsightedness of their approach to the negotiations. The concept of “one country—two systems,” preserving two different political social and economic systems [end p3] within one nation has no precedent. It offers an administrative and imaginative response to the special historical circumstances of Hong Kong. The concept is an example of how apparently intractable problems can and should be resolved.

The Agreement is a basis on which the people of Hong Kong will build. They will bring to the task the energy, persistence and determination for which they are rightly famous throughout the world, and I am confident that they will make Hong Kong an even more flourishing place than it is today.

Britain and China share a continuing responsibility to maintain the conditions within which the people of Hong Kong can realize this goal. We have laid the foundation in this solemn international agreement. We have created in the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group, a forum for cooperation over its implementation. We have demonstrated the strength of our commitment to it today by the signature that you, Zhao ZiyangMr. Premier, and I, have set upon it, and I am heartened by the assurance which your Government has repeatedly given that the arrangements for Hong Kong contained in the Agreement are not measures of expediency; they are long-term policies which will be incorporated in the basic law for Hong Kong and preserved intact for fifty years from 1997.

For my part, I pledge that the British Government will do all in its power to make the Agreement a success. It will be our pride and our pleasure to administer Hong Kong up to the 30th June 1997 in accordance with the [end p4] highest principles of British administration. We shall administer it prudently, with foresight, and in the best interests of the people.

In accordance with the terms of the Agreement, we shall be ready to consult with the Chinese Government, through the Joint Liaison Group, to ensure the smooth transition and we are pleased that this consultation will extend beyond 1997 to the year 2000.

The negotiation itself has brought our countries closer together. It has increased our mutual understanding, respect and trust. I am convinced that as we work together in the future, we shall be laying the foundation for an even closer and deeper relationship. That is good for Britain, good for China, and good for the world. Above all, it is good for the people of Hong Kong.

We are privileged today to take part with our Chinese friends in a unique occasion. The circumstances are unique; the Agreement is unique. It is right that we should feel a sense of history, of pride, and of confidence in the future.

May I thank you for the privilege …   . (applause)