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China’s Hong Kong at 20

Negotiations with Chinese officials often turn into prolonged fights for every imaginable concession. But the real problem is that, contrary to what many believe, China's authorities do not always keep their promises, with Hong Kong's experience in the 20 years since the British handover being a case in point.

LONDON – While I was Governor of Hong Kong, from 1992 until the handover of the city to China in 1997, I kept a diary. Consulting that diary over the last few months, as I write a book partly about my experience there, I have discovered several passages describing China’s “struggle” school of diplomacy – one that endures even today, as we approach the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty.

In China’s struggle school of diplomacy, no decision could be confirmed without a protracted argument with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials. That argument ended only when it became clear that the Chinese could squeeze no other concessions out of those on the other side of the table. Time, Chinese negotiators seemed (or pretended) to believe, was on their side, so they could always wait out their opponents.

Another example of this bullying approach concerned the arrangements for the handover itself. China made a number of proposals that, had we not resisted them, would have allowed its army to sweep into Hong Kong well before June 30, 1997, the agreed handover date.

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