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Wednesday, December 31, 1997 Published at 21:10 GMT

Special Report

Hong Kong handed over to China
image: [ Chris Patten at his official residence ]
Chris Patten at his official residence

The handover of Hong Kong to China at midnight on June 30 brought to an end British rule, which had begun in 1842 when Hong Kong island had been ceded to the UK under the Treaty of Nanking.

Chris Patten, the territory's last Governor, bade an emotional farewell to his staff at his official residence, before the colony was officially handed over in the Grand Hall of Hong Kong's Convention Centre.

Watching the ceremonies were the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, and Prime Minister, Li Peng, as well as the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and The Prince of Wales.

The Prince used the occasion to wish Hong Kong well and to express pride in Britain's relationship with its former colony: "I should like on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and of the entire British people to express our thanks, admiration and good wishes to all the people of Hong Kong who have been such staunch and special friends over so many generations. We shall not forget you and we shall watch with the closest interest as you embark on this new era of your remarkable history."

[ image: Chinese troops]
Chinese troops
As trucks full of immaculately turned out Chinese troops rolled into the colony, China's premier, Li Peng, said that no matter what the difficulties, Beijing would work to reunify all its territories: "The return of Hong Kong has wiped out the century-long humiliation and greatly rekindled the patriotic passion of people of all ethnic roots in China. At this very moment, we dearly cherish the memory of all the revolutionary martyrs and forerunners for their great achievements and determination to further advantage socialism's modernisation drive."

To some in Hong Kong, particularly those who had been arguing for greater assurances from China about future democratic life in the territory, Li Peng's words were of little comfort. Pro-democracy activists pointed to the orchestration by China of a pro-Beijing provisional legislative council to replace the elected assembly that had been belatedly put in place by Britain; this they said did not bode well for the future.

However, Tung Chee Hwa, the billionaire shipping tycoon, chosen by China as Hong Kong's first post-handover chief executive, sought to allay such fears saying the Chinese would stick to their plans for "one country, two systems" - a capitalist system for Hong Kong.

In 1984, Beijing and London had agreed that Hong Kong would revert to China. The Sino-British Joint Declaration contained assurances on the future of the territory, with China guaranteeing the continuation of Hong Kong's capitalist economy for 50 years from 1997.

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