Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher promised to “make the strongest possible representations to the Chinese government” for any breach of an international agreement on the Hong Kong handover.
At the same time, Thatcher received assurances from Chinese leaders that they will abide by the treaty, Apple Daily reported Tuesday.
The revelations came in official documents released recently by Britain’s National Archives.
Earlier, Chinese officials said the Sino-British Joint Declaration ceased to be in force after the 1997 change of sovereignty.
Last week, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam repeated the Chinese line, saying Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy for the next 50 years was a promise made by Beijing alone.
In documents prepared for a 1984 visit to Hong Kong, Thatcher said Britain “has the right to raise any breaches with China after 1997. We would not hesitate to do so.”
China and Britain signed the Joint Declaration in December that year, paving the way for the handover.
Allen Lee, who was a Legislative Council member in 1984, said the information is in line with “firm” promises made by Britain to the chamber in the 1980s.
These were part of efforts to calm Hong Kong people who had become anxious about returning to Chinese sovereignty, he said.
“If it was not a firm statement, who would have agreed to it?” Lee said.
The documents suggest Thatcher received assurances from national leaders that China will keep its part of the Joint Declaration, according to Apple Daily.
Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief at the time, said that if the agreement could not be implemented, China’s reputation would be at risk, not Britain’s.
Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping made similar promises, the report said.
In rejecting the Chinese claim that the agreement is no longer valid, Allen Lee cited article seven of the Joint Declaration which stipulates that both countries will honor the treaty post-handover.
“Who would have guessed that 30 years later, China would be the second largest economy in the world?” Lee said.
“Back then, China was hoping to piggyback on Hong Kong’s economic success.”
But given China’s economic power now, it is unlikely Britain will take the issue to an international court for arbitration, Lee said.
“Britain recently bagged US$30 billion worth of contracts from China. Would they pursue the matter further?”
Martin Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party, said Britain has embarrassed itself by shying away from the issue.
He said the British government should at least make a formal statement or bring the case to an international court.
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