UK government officials discussed the idea of resettling all the 5.5 million residents of Hong Kong in Northern Ireland at the height of the violent political struggle there in 1983.
The extraordinary proposal has emerged in government documents that have just been released to the National Archives in London on Friday, the Guardian reported.
The suggestion was made initially by Christie Davies, a sociology lecturer at Reading University.
A city state should be established in Magilligan in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, he said, because Hong Kong’s population would have no political future after the colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
A Northern Ireland civil servant, George Fergusson, seized on the idea and launched into enthusiastic discussions with the Foreign Office.
A file entitled “The Replantation of N. Ireland from Hong Kong” records the exchanges – the title echoes the 17th-century settlement, or “plantation”, of Scots in Northern Ireland by King James I.
American doubts about the scheme would be assuaged by the “possibly happy outcome to the uncertainties currently surrounding Hong Kong”, Fergusson wrote.
There were legal precedents, he said, in the European Community: “If Gibraltar and Falkland Island inhabitants … may be EC citizens, how could Brussels … seriously object to the inhabitants of Hong Kong, particularly if they were living in the Magilligan area?”
Fifty Chinese families from Vietnam had been resettled in Craigavon and Coleraine already, Fergusson said.
“It has at least established that the Chinese do not find the Northern Ireland climate objectionable and that they can get on reasonably well with the current inhabitants,” he said.
In reply, D.R. Snoxell, of the Foreign Office’s Republic of Ireland department, adopted a tone that suggested parody as much as caution, the newspaper said.
He wrote: “You have raised some important considerations to which we shall want to give careful thought.
“My initial reaction, however, is that the proposal could be useful to the extent that 5½ million Chinese may induce the indigenous peoples to forsake their homeland for a future elsewhere.
“Arrangements would, of course, have to be made for [the Chinese] to retain their UK nationality.”
A sovereignty dispute — still unresolved to this day — with the Republic of Ireland over Lough Foyle, the estuary of the River Foyle, could complicate their resettlement, Snoxell wrote.
“The Chinese people of Hong Kong are essentially a fishing and maritime people,” he said.
“I am sure you would share our view that it would be unwise to settle the people of Hong Kong in the vicinity until we had established our claims on the lough and whether these extended to high or low-water mark.”
Another official at the Foreign Office had written on the letter: “My mind will be boggling for the rest of the day”.
Although the Chinese community never reached five million, it has contributed to Northern Ireland’s political progress, the Guardian said.
Anna Lo Man-wah, originally from Hong Kong, moved to Belfast in 1974, and was elected a member of the legislative assembly in 2007.
She announced last year she would be standing down at the next election, because of racist abuse by nationalists.
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