Saturday 1 July 2017

boundary street

Though arguably the sunset for the British Empire occurred that moment when they could no longer operate unilaterally and the US opposed their seizure of the Suez Canal and the seaways of the Arab Gulf in 1956, those in attendance for the transfer of sovereignty ceremony for Hong Kong on this day in 1997 expressed a palpable sense of the UK’s imperium having come to a close.
Although Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula (with that unsupervised exclave within an enclave) were ceded to the UK in perpetuity under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking and only the New Territories around Hong Kong bay were subject to a ninety-nine year lease, but during negotiation between the Chinese government and Prime Minister Thatcher in the mid-eighties, the UK conceded that Hong Kong could continue to be prosperous without the full territorial integrity enjoyed for the last century. And with assurances that the residents’ previous capitalist system and way of life would remain unchanged for the next fifty years. While Hong Kong residents enjoy considerable autonomy and is considered a separate jurisdiction by other nations and international organisations, there is also a sense of incursion and abandonment from its former metropolitan. When the handover occurred, few would have predicted that China would have produced economic centres—bastions of finance and industry—to rival the former colony’s allure. Nonetheless, however, that capital diminished to an extent and Hong Kong, because of its special status, soon became more of a harbour to park wealth and facilitate money-laundering. Thinking strategically, perhaps if Hong Kong had remained unique as an economic powerhouse it was hoped that Hong Kong’s model would become something infectious for the mainland and result in the spread of democracy. With tensions rising on each successive anniversary, it’s becoming less and less clear whether Hong Kong’s culture and politics will be suffered lightly for the next thirty years.