Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1984 Dec 21 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference in Hong Kong

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Central Government Offices, Hong Kong
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 0800-0850. Sir Geoffrey Howe was present at the Press Conference (ITN index entry 21 December 1984).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4808
Themes: Defence (arms control), Trade, Foreign policy (Asia), Race, immigration, nationality

Prime Minister

This Press Conference is my last public engagement in Hong Kong before I fly home for Christmas—the long way round this time, in order to see President Reagan.

As you know, I have just been in Peking and my purpose in going was to sign the Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong and to talk personally with Chinese leaders both about Hong Kong and about the key issues of world affairs.

I said in Peking that the Agreement we have signed with China about Hong Kong is an historic document. It is indeed. It is the culmination of two years' long and often hard negotiation, and it is the beginning of a new period in Hong Kong's history.

The first point I wish to make about this Agreement is that it assures the continuation of Hong Kong as a free trading capitalist society for a very long time to come—into the middle of the next century. This means that Hong Kong can plan long-term with confidence. I believe Deng XiaopingChairman Deng intends his bold concept of “one country-two systems” to last. [end p1]

My second point is that you have my absolute assurance that Britain will administer Hong Kong wisely and well between now and 1997. We shall honour our obligations to the full.

My third point is that Britain will not merely do all in its power to work for Hong Kong's steady development and a smooth transition; we shall also seek to win the widest possible acceptance of the Agreement in the rest of the world.

We start this exercise under very favourable circumstances. The Agreement has already won high praise from many leading nations in the world. The Agreement is regarded as a good one by the overwhelming majority of the people of Hong Kong, and the British Government are firmly committed to carrying out the Agreement to the full; so too, are the Chinese Government, and that is the assurance which Chairman Deng Xiaoping and Premier Zhao Ziyang gave me during my discussions on Wednesday.

Of course, there are people here who have concerns about the Agreement, and many of them are reflected in the careful report prepared by the Assessment Office. I understand these concerns and they will be very much in our minds as we start the process of implementing the Agreement. Nevertheless, this is a good Agreement; good for Hong Kong and for its future, and it is now up to all of us together to make sure that it works.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your questions! [end p2]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, we are indeed very happy to have so many assurances given by the two Governments for the future prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, but from the Hong Kong People's point of view, in order to set our heart at ease and to help us, as diligent as before, to create another miracle the best assurance is to have a chance to choose another lifestyle than you want to. I think we should remember one of your few Hong Kong advisers, an experienced and imaginative Executive Councillor of Hong Kong Government, who put out a proposal of setting up a fund in Hong Kong in order to help those people …   . those Hong Kong people … in case they need information and advice to choose another lifestyle.

Mrs. Prime Minister, our common aim is to maintain …

Bernard Ingham

What is the question? Could we have the question, please?

Same Man

Yes, now I come to the question. Mrs. Prime Minister, our common aim is to maintain the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. Will Mrs. Thatcher and the British Government ever consider helping Hong Kong people to establish and to promote this fund, and may I just remind you, Mrs. Prime Minister, during the Falklands War, in which your Government decided to protect a remote dependent territory. On behalf of the Hong Kong people, the Hong Kong Government act [end p3] responsibly to donate 20 million Hong Kong dollars to the South Pacific Fund in order to help the British people to fight for their reputation and to maintain Britain's prosperity and stability. In return, will the British Government …

Bernard Ingham

I am sorry. Please! Could we have slightly shorter questions please!

Prime Minister

I am not quite sure what the question was going to be, but our duty is to implement the Agreement into which we have entered and to implement it to the full—and we shall do that.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you have said in your Statement that Hong Kong is able to maintain its separate position within the GATT and multi-lateral arrangements. How can this be carried out? When you say: “retain its separate position” now, of course, Hong Kong is not retaining any separate position in the GATT. Hong Kong is represented within UK and what will the future pattern be?

Prime Minister

This is dealt with in the Agreement and Hong Kong, as you indicated, now is dealt with separately by virtue of [end p4] her relationship with the United Kingdom. She is dealt with separately. The same arrangement will continue. She will be dealt with separately after the Agreement. She will not be dealt with as the general body of China, but separately.

She is also dealt with separately now, so I do not quite understand the problem.

Same Man

It is not separate now.

Prime Minister

It is dealt with separately now. It is dealt with specially, as Hong Kong, now.

Same Man

I see. And as from now, Hong Kong will be an independent GATT member?

Prime Minister

No. She is dealt with separately under her present status. She will continue to be dealt with separately after 1997.

Same Man

How about the multi-fibre arrangement?

Prime Minister

That is why I say she is dealt with separately now, [end p5] under the arrangements which obtain now, although she is a dependency of Britain.

Same Man

But Britain's arrangement after 1986, when the present multi-fibre arrangement expires …   .

Prime Minister

Well, after 1986, we deal with the next multi-fibre arrangement in the same way as we dealt with the last one. As you know, they last seven years and we re-negotiate them, and I should think the period for re-negotiation will soon be coming up. But as you point out, specific arrangements are made under the GATT as now for Hong Kong. I should think we shall soon be starting to consider the next multilateral [sic] agreement, but that will be done in the same way as previous ones have been.

Question

I would like to ask about the possibility of having a Chinese Governor before 1997 and has this question been discussed between you and the Chinese Leader during your visit to China?

Prime Minister

No. We have not decided on all Governors up to 1997. We are very very happy with our present one! [end p6]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, is it true that in 1979, when Governor Maclehose went to Peking and spoke with Deng Xiaoping, that Deng Xiaoping told him that not only should Hong Kong people put their hearts at ease but also that China intended to retake sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997? If this is true, why were not the Hong Kong people told about it? And second, did that have anything to do with the formulation of the Nationality Act?

Prime Minister

First, I do not know the content of any talks which Lord Maclehose may have had.

Secondly, we must now turn our eyes to this Agreement. Our task now is to implement this Agreement which has been overwhelmingly accepted by Hong Kong people as a whole.

The Nationality Act was passed by the British Parliament in the light of all the circumstances then at the time.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, how can your Government assist Hong Kong in solving the problems in national trade relations, such as the Declaration of Countries of Origin proposed by the US Government? Do the British interests …   . on the high priority? Furthermore, could a change of the parties affect your implementation of the Agreement? [end p7]

Prime Minister

I think you are on to a point which is at the moment a very difficult point between Hong Kong and the United States Government, in view of some of the decisions which the United States Government has taken about countries of origin, which I understand is affecting Hong Kong trade. That itself, obviously, is a matter for the United States Government and is not affected by the Agreement.

Question

Could a change of the parties affect your implementation of the Agreement?

Prime Minister

You mean a change of Government? No. The Agreement is made on behalf of Britain, on behalf of the United Kingdom, with the Chinese Government and the implementation and honouring of the Agreement continues even though there are changes of parties. It is always a custom in Britain.

Jill Hartley (South China Morning Post)

Could I ask you a question, Prime Minister, on defence? Did you receive assurances from the Chinese Leaders that there would be no compulsory conscription into the PLA for Hong Kong people after 1997 and did you discuss the option then of a locally recruited volunteer force to man the British garrison here? [end p8]

Prime Minister

No. Conscription is not mentioned in the Agreement and the Chinese Government have not suggested that there would be conscription. I did not go into detail.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, how much importance do you set on secret ballot in the electoral process and what significance is there in the absence of any mention of this in the Agreement?

Prime Minister

You will find that the Agreement goes into a good deal of detail but I think not the full kind of detail which you are seeking at the moment. Of course, I believe in a secret ballot. We have to sort out developments in the constitutional Government of Hong Kong between now and 1997. Of course, we believe that democracy requires a secret ballot.

You will find the Agreement itself and during that time, between now and 1997, we have the Joint Liaison Group, and of course, the Agreement itself says that it expects the whole structure of it … it expects the lifestyle of Hong Kong to continue. But long before 1997 we have steadily and securely to increase the amount of representation of local people in the Government of Hong Kong.

Question

Prime Minister, on Wednesday, you signed an agreement with China promising to deliver over five million people into [end p9] the hands of a Communist dictatorship. Is this morally defensible or is it really true that in international politics the highest form of morality is one's own national interest?

Prime Minister

Can I just say this to you? What do you think would have happened if we had not attempted to get an agreement? In 1997, 92%; of the Territory would automatically have returned to China without any assurances, without any of the advantages of the Agreement that we have now.

May I not put it to you that the situation now is vastly better for Hong Kong and accepts and honours and acknowledges the fact that China wishes the lifestyle of Hong Kong to continue under that Agreement?

I think you would have had great cause to complain had the Government of Great Britain done nothing until 1997, and I believe that most of the people—indeed, the overwhelming number of people in Hong Kong—think the same. You may be the solitary exception.

Lawrence Mcdonald (AFP)

Prime Minister, I would like to ask a question about the drafting of the basic law.

Did you seek from the Chinese Leaders, during your visit to Peking, any assurances that Hong Kong people would not only be consulted on the drafting of the basic law, but [end p10] actually be able to participate in the drafting of it, and if you did seek these, did you get any indication of their thinking on this crucial point?

Prime Minister

It is stipulated in the Agreement that the details in the Annexes will be embodied in the basic law. That is one of the points of having such detailed Annexes and of having the stipulation right in the Agreement.

The Chinese Government gave an assurance while we were in Peking that they would also solicit the views of the people of Hong Kong on a wide basis. They, of course, will be responsible for the actual drafting, but, of course, the agreements in the Annexes will be embodied in the drafting.

Question (In Chinese)

There are some Members of Parliament in Britain who suggested that there should be a Report on Hong Kong tabled to the Parliament every year. What do you think about that?

Prime Minister

I do not think it is necessary to have a report on Hong Kong tabled every year any more than we have had a report on Hong Kong tabled now, which we have not.

Great Britain is solely in charge of administration until 1997 through the Government of Hong Kong and I see myself no need for a particular report. From time to time, doubtless the matter will be debated in our Parliament, because naturally, [end p11] our Parliament is very interested in exactly what happens.

Question

Will the Joint Liaison Group report frequently to the Hong Kong people after it is set up and is working?

Prime Minister

I am sure it will be very closely in touch with Hong Kong people throughout its whole lifetime, very closely in touch. I doubt very much whether there will be the necessity for formal reports, but just as we have tried the whole time to keep very closely in touch with Hong Kong people while we have been negotiating this Agreement, so the Joint Liaison Group will be very much aware of opinion in Hong Kong and naturally will take that into account, as I indicated that we would take the concerns which the Assessment Report threw up into account.

The whole Agreement is for Hong Kong people and our whole concern has been for Hong Kong people throughout and that concern will continue.

Question (Oriental Daily News)

My question is also about the Joint Liaison Group. With only six months ahead, which is quite a short time, the Joint Liaison Group will be fully operational. Have you discussed with the Chinese Leaders the composition of the Group and could you reveal who the five members are of the British side and whether the Hong Kong Governor and his Political Adviser Mr. McLaren would be members of the Group [end p12] in the future?

Prime Minister

We have not decided the precise membership of the Group. It is, of course, an inter-governmental group and it will, we expect, contain on it Hong Kong Government officials, but we have not decided the precise membership of the Group. Sir Edward YoudeThe Governor, of course, will be on it. No question. The Governor will be on it. I shall be absolutely astonished if the Governor is not on it!

Question

Prime Minister, Arthur Scargill, a man noted for his Marxist views, has been trying to bring down your Government in Britain. Why, after a day in Peking, are you so convinced of the integrity of the Marxists there?

Prime Minister

This is an agreement which has been entered into with the Chinese Government. It is in the interests of the Chinese Government, the British Government and the people of Hong Kong to honour that Agreement and it is an Agreement which I believe that the Chinese Government will honour, and it has been signed in the eyes of the world, and it is a good agreement. I believe that it will be honoured to the full. [end p13]

Question (Economist & Washington Post)

Why your Government feels assured of China's commitment to this Treaty does not need reiteration, but I think we need, for the record, to know what will your Government do if the terms of this Agreement are abused or broken. In short, are you prepared to defend this pact as you did in the Falklands and by what means?

Prime Minister

I believe this Agreement will be honoured. I believe that firmly. If, by any chance, any question arose under the Agreement, naturally a signatory to it would raise the matter with the Chinese Government. If they had anything to raise with us, naturally they would raise it with us. That is the normal procedure under an agreement. The signatories raise matters with one another.

Question

Are you prepared to go further to defend this?

Prime Minister

I have indicated that if there is anything to raise under the Agreement, then of course we would raise it in the normal way, but I believe it will be fully honoured.

Can I say to you: in 1997, 92%; of the Territory would automatically return to China. [end p14]

Question

Prime Minister, you have been told by Premier Zhao Ziyang that the views of Hong Kong people will be widely solicited on the drafting of basic law, but the major concern for the people here now is will they be able to participate? Have you been assured on this point? If not, what will your Government do to help the Hong Kong people to be able to join the Basic Law Drafting Committee?

Prime Minister

Well, I have answered questions about the basic law. The relevant content of the Annexes will be stipulated in the basic law, that is, in the Agreement itself. Therefore, things which are of particular concern to Hong Kong will, by virtue of that stipulation, be in the Agreement.

The Chinese Government has also said—and I use their words—that they would solicit opinion in Hong Kong on a wide basis. The precise mechanism by which that will be carried out has not yet been decided. But the greatest protection is the detail which the Chinese Government and the British Government entered into in the Annexes and that we both regard that as binding and that that detail will be stipulated in the basic law. That is very considerable protection.

The drafting of the basic law—other than as I have indicated that the agreements in the Annexes will be stipulated in the basic law—is of course a matter for the Chinese Government. [end p15]

Question (CBC News)

In view of your next stop, what would you like the United States to do to either help or support this Agreement?

Prime Minister

The United States has already welcomed the Agreement and so have a number of other countries. I believe that they will express their faith in that Agreement by just carrying on the kind of investment and confidence that they have already shown in Hong Kong and it is vital that they and many other countries do so, and I believe that that will happen.

Question

Can I return back to the question of the Joint Liaison Group? The reason given for not having Hong Kong people representatives sitting in the Group is said because it is a diplomatic body, but can you tell us why the Joint Liaison Group has to be a diplomatic body in the first hand?

Prime Minister

It is an inter-government agreement. That is to say, it is an agreement signed by China and Great Britain, and that is the main reason. Therefore, it will have on it five people from each government, or five people nominated by each government, and there will be Hong Kong Government officials among that five and, of course, as until now, the concerns of Hong Kong people will be fully taken into account. But the real reason is that it is an inter-governmental agreement. [end p16]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you have solved the historical problem of Hong Kong as a territory, yet you are left with the moral problem because since World War Two this is the first time that six million people, by treaty, are transferred to what you yourself might call the Free World to Communism. You have signed that treaty. How do you feel about it?

Prime Minister

I think that we should have been negligent had we not in fact raised the post-1997 position, as we did. We raised it. We have got an agreement which is acceptable overwhelmingly to the people of Hong Kong. That agreement will extend into fifty years beyond 1997. I feel we have done a good job for the people of Hong Kong.

Just consider what sort of questions you would be asking me now had there been no agreement and a totally unknown future.

Question (Dave Schweizberg, UPI)

Prime Minister, forgive me for changing the subject …   .

Prime Minister

I should be delighted if you do!

Question

After your talks with Mr. Gorbachev this week, are you satisfied the Soviet Union is serious about arms control and do [end p17] you carry any message to President Reagan in advance of the talks in Geneva between Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko?

Prime Minister

I believe that the Soviet Union is serious in wanting reduction in armaments and, of course, the United States is absolutely sincere in that objective.

It will take quite some time to work out the precise fora in which reductions should be negotiated. As you know, it is a question of whether the strategic missiles should be treated as they were formerly, separately from the intermediate ballistic missiles and then, of course, we must never forget negotiations on reductions of chemical warfare. (sic! weapons?). We ourselves destroyed our own stockpile of chemical weapons many years ago. The Soviet Union did not follow suit. The United States has some, but the Soviet Union has a great deal. And of course, conventional forces, that negotiation must continue.

So I think it will take quite a time to work out the precise procedure and doubtless Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko will be turning their minds very much to this matter when they meet, but I believe that both sides sincerely want disarmament. It must be balanced; it must lead to a feeling of security on both sides; it must be verifiable. [end p18]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, do you think that the principle “one country-two systems” will be as successful in relation to Taiwan as in Hong Kong?

Prime Minister

I have no locus on Taiwan!

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you are reported to have said in Peking that Deng Xiaoping laid down a time limit to these negotiations being completed. Do you feel that Britain was rushed into signing this Agreement?

Prime Minister

No, we were not rushed into signing it. I think the full amount of the detail demonstrates that. I do think that when you have a target like that you do get decisions, because you are up against a time limit, but equally, you get the extra attention and the total concentration which we had, and I believe, as I indicated when we started these negotiations, that it would be beneficial for Hong Kong to get an agreement, so that people had confidence in what was going to happen after 1997 and, of course, we were already under pressure because of some of the land transactions, and therefore we did need urgently to work towards an agreement and I am very glad that we took that decision and very pleased with the Agreement. [end p19]

Question (In Chinese)

You have spoken to Premier Zhao about Sino-British relationships in Peking. May I ask in what areas you would have more cooperation with China? It is said that in China there will be a senior delegation going to Britain next year. What questions will you be talking about then?

Prime Minister

Relationships between China and Britain are already good. Trade between China and Britain is increasing. There will be a trade delegation some time during next year. That is not the first trade delegation; it will not be the last. There have been many before and they, of course, will continue.

We have been working closely together on a number of things. As you know, we have been interested in doing work in the South China Sea on oil. BP have been there for some time; they are going to continue their exploration. Cable & Wireless have been responsible for the telecommunications for some time, and we have been working on the plans for the Guangdong nuclear power station for some time. But we have and will continue to have delegations to China about many matters. There will be a trade delegation—I think under Lord Young—in March. Previously there have been many trade delegations.

Naturally, I do hope that the trade will increase. We are always trying to get extra exports as exactly Hong Kong is trying to get extra exports to the rest of the world.

Also, may I point out that Premier Zhao Ziyang will be [end p20] visiting Britain this coming year, I believe possibly in the middle of the year. I believe he is doing a tour to Europe and he will come to Britain, which we are very very pleased about.

Question

I would like to know if the content of the talk in the Joint Liaison Group will be kept confidential and, second, how will the people of Hong Kong be informed so that we will not repeat the experience of the negotiations in the past two years?

Prime Minister

Yes, of course, the content and discussions in a Joint Liaison Group will be confidential. You simply could not work that kind of group unless they were confidential. But we have kept closely in touch with Hong Kong people throughout this time and, of course, the Joint Liaison Group will keep in touch, as we always have. So I do not think you need have any worries on that score.

Again, I repeat that our prime concern in entering into these negotiations and seeking the Agreement was the future of the people of Hong Kong.

Question

Since the talks of the Joint Liaison Group will be kept confidential, how will the views of the Hong Kong people be reflected? [end p21]

Prime Minister

Well, the Government of Hong Kong is constantly in touch with the Hong Kong people. We have a number of elected representatives; we have a number of appointed representatives. They have kept very closely in touch with Hong Kong people during this time, and they will also do so during the continuation of the Agreement up to 1997.

Question

So we will be kept in the dark?

Prime Minister

I think you will find they will keep very closely in touch.

Question

Prime Minister, will you discuss with President Reagan over the concept “one country-two systems” during your coming visit to Washington?

Prime Minister

Will I discuss that concept? I doubt very much whether that will play a major part in our discussions, although I shall of course thank Ronald Reaganthe President for the way in which they welcomed the Hong Kong Agreement and look for their support in its implementation and that they will keep their confidence in Hong Kong; and of course, I hope that American investors will keep their confidence in Hong Kong. But [end p22] the concept “one country-two systems” was the concept, I believe, of Chairman Deng Xiaoping, and accepted by China in her signing of the Agreement, and it is a concept and it will work.

Question (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Prime Minister, how do you justify going to war over the Falkland Islands when the small population there did not wish to be absorbed into Argentina and giving in to Communist China so easily and handing over the 5½ million people of Hong Kong to Communist China, when so many of those people voted with their feet to leave that country?

Prime Minister

I do not quite understand how you can ignore the lease which terminates in 1997 and every question which has been put on the basis that you have put this has ignored that fundamental fact. I did not find it was being ignored in Hong Kong, that fundamental fact. I found that people wanted confidence and reassurance about post-1997, realising that unless we entered into an agreement what would happen in 1997. Therefore, we negotiated with China. China and we were both anxious that the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong should continue and the Agreement is the result.

I think you will find that had there not been an agreement now, had not we entered into talks, Hong Kong people would have cause to be concerned because uncertainty is very very difficult. We have got an agreement and it has been [end p23] overwhelmingly accepted by the people of Hong Kong.

Question

And yet, Mrs. Thatcher, the international treaties were the ones that you cited two years ago when you went to Peking when at the point the Chinese Government had already stated that it wanted Hong Kong back. The treaties were the ones you stood by at that time; what in the past two years caused the change?

Prime Minister

As I have indicated, we have now freely entered into a new Agreement which we regard as legally binding and our concern now is to implement that Agreement and to honour it to the full—which both sides will.