China focuses on next great prize - Taiwan

The hottest selling item at Peking's state-owned Friendship Store these days is a triumphalist 1997 fridge magnet, showing two happy pandas painting the red Chinese flag on top of a Union flag. Another magnet shows a gloomy British bulldog, suitcases in hand, boarding a British flight out while a panda waves him off.

Patriotic fridge magnets aside, the countdown in China started in earnest at the stroke of midnight on Saturday as the electronic clock in Tiananmen Square clicked to show exactly 100 days to go. A group of about 200 students bused in from the People's University dutifully broke into song and waved flags in front of the clock, making up with enthusiasm what they lacked in spontaneity. And last night the main television station broadcast the final of a nation-wide quiz show in which mainlanders have competed against each other to demonstrate their extraordinary knowledge of Hong Kong trivia.

China's obsession with sovereignty, and the inviolable nature of the "motherland", has for months fuelled a surge in patriotic propaganda. Even the hardline Prime Minister, Li Peng, reportedly thinks the handover might justify lifting the normal ban on fireworks in Peking.

Yet this is one subject on which there is little gap between the official propaganda and the perceptions of ordinary Chinese. "There is a genuine patriotic sense that China is healing itself, that it is righting a historical wrong," said one Western diplomat. The British, and the possibility that they might have played some part in Hong Kong's success, have been written out of the official script. In a statement to mark the "100 Days to Go" milestone, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Cui Tiankai, last week declared: "Over the past 100 years, Hong Kong Chinese built Hong Kong into an international trade, financial and shipping centre, with the special diligence and intelligence of the Chinese people." No mention of any benefits of 150 years of British administration.

From an early age, Chinese schoolchildren are drilled in the heinous crimes of the British during the Opium Wars, and the unequal treaties which stole part of the motherland. A view of almost a priori sovereign rights is well absorbed, whether the territory in question is Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang or the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. All are deemed "inalienable" parts of China.

China's Defence Minister, Chi Haotian, recently urged the country to "make full use of this historic opportunity and mobilise the whole nation for education in patriotism and national defence". Such sentiments explain why there is unease in Hong Kong at a statement this month by Qian Qichen, the Chinese Foreign Minister, that school textbooks in the territory which do not confirm to China's "principles" will have to be "revised". As far as China is concerned, history is written by the sovereign power.

After 1 July, Hong Kong will become another Chinese "internal affair" in which other countries are not allowed to "interfere". Technically, under the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong's transfer, Britain still has a monitoring role through the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group which will exist, and will continue to meet, until 1 January 2000. The Joint Declaration is also registered at the United Nations as an international agreement, one which pledges that the "one country, two systems" arrangement will last for 50 years. In practice, however, there is little scope for formal international sanction of China if things go wrong.

For Peking, the spotlight of sovereign ambition will, after 1 July, shift to the recovery of Macau in 1999, and, more importantly, to Taiwan. Macau is far less of a trophy than Hong Kong. After the 1974 change of government in Portugal, Lisbon wanted to give Macau back to China, but Peking insisted that nothing could be given back which had not been taken away. Unlike Hong Kong's New Territories, there was never a formal treaty for Macau, so 20 December 1999 was arbitrarily fixed as the time when this corner of Chinese territory would be removed from "Portuguese administration". That date will mark an end to foreign government of claimed Chinese territory.

Taiwan is a different matter. Since the beginning of this year, all the main speeches by Chinese leaders have spoken of how, after Hong Kong is reunited with the motherland, it should be the turn of Taiwan, still formally considered a renegade province by Peking. In his funeral address for Deng Xiaoping, President Jiang Zemin said: "The Taiwan question will be settled eventually and the complete reunification of the motherland will certainly be achieved." The Prime Minister, in his annual state of the nation report this month, said: "The reunification of the motherland is an irreversible historical trend, and any attempt at splitting China, or at the secession of Taiwan from China, will meet with the firm opposition of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan."

Those Taiwan compatriots will be among the people most keenly watching developments in Hong Kong after 1 July, with every expectation that the reality of "one country, two systems" will not tempt them towards reunification with the Communist-run mainland.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all