Death of chief protector leaves Hong Kong uneasy

Battle for power looms as Chinese pay tribute to the great manipulator

It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which Deng Xiaoping was personally responsible both for sealing the fate of Hong Kong's political future and for creating the conditions under which the territory has enjoyed an extraordinary period of economic prosperity.

According to the official version of events, Deng turned his attention to the future of Hong Kong in 1978. The Communist Party's Central Committee was preparing its radical programme of economic reform, the scheme for so called "socialist modernisation", and was devising ways of "achieving the reunification of the motherland".

Deng Xiaoping knew that China would never achieve modernisation without help from overseas Chinese compatriots, especially those in Hong Kong. It had long served as China's economic window on the world. Now Hong Kong was to become more than a mere entrepot: it was to provide both the capital and know-how needed to breathe new life into the elephantine Chinese economy.

Deng was also aware that China had the opportunity to realise its historic dream of recovering sovereignty over Hong Kong. The humiliating treaty which ceded a part of the Chinese mainland for a period of 99 years was due to expire in 1997. Hong Kong island itself had been ceded in perpetuity back in 1842, but it was clear that the island could not survive without the mainland territory.

Deeply conscious of Chinese history and his place in it, Deng Xiaoping made it a priority to expunge the disgrace of foreign occupation of Chinese soil. He was not going to be another Li Hongzhang, the Qing dynasty official who signed the treaty handing over Hong Kong to the British. As he told Margaret Thatcher in 1982 "no Chinese leader or government would be able to justify themselves" for failing to secure the return of the territory. "It would mean the present Chinese government was just like the government of the late Qing Dynasty".

However Deng knew it would not be enough to satisfy Chinese national pride; fears of the Hong Kong people also needed to be allayed. More important was to reassure the people of Taiwan, occupied by the anti-Communist Nationalist government, which he also wanted returned to the Chinese fold.

To do so, he developed the "one country, two systems" concept under which, according to Deng, "the main part of China must maintain socialism, but a capitalist system will be allowed to exist in certain areas, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan". Capitalist influences would also be allowed in to "supplement the socialist economy".

This was the genesis of both the idea that Hong Kong could remain capitalist, albeit under the sovereignty of a Communist state, and that other cities, notably in the south, would be allowed to develop along capitalist lines, providing a spur to the rest of the economy.

The breathtaking economic development of the southern parts of the country, aided by Hong Kong and Taiwanese entrepreneurs, succeeded beyond Deng's wildest dreams. Using freedoms carved out by Deng and expanding on them, the new entrepreneurs virtually junked the entire state-controlled economy. Hong Kong, now firmly connected to the powerhouse of economic growth in China, leapt into an era of double digit economic growth and general prosperity. Hong Kong businessmen were ready to deify the name of Deng Xiaoping.

Deng had previously indicated that he did not favour any form of full- scale democracy for Hong Kong and even spoke of the need for the Chinese government to intervene in the colony if instability broke out.

As Deng grew older and worrying reports about his health filled the pages of the local press, there was much talk about how Hong Kong would manage after the great man died. The stock market gyrated in tune with the optimistic and pessimistic reports of his health. But his end was a long time coming, and the jitters gave way to what stockbrokers called a "discounting of the Deng factor".

Nevertheless, it remains hard to dispel fears over the uncertainty produced by Deng's death. Although Tiananmen severely dented his image, Deng retained the status of "Hong Kong's protector". No one else has stepped in to fill this role. With just four months until Deng's dream is realised and the colony reverts to China, the lack of a protector makes Hong Kong people uneasy.

Leading article, page 15

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk