Hong Kong fortress raises British flag

Hong Kong taxi-drivers call it the "British fort", a description not appreciated by Foreign Office officials who occupy the new pounds 31.5m consulate- general building to be officially opened by the Princess Royal tomorrow.

The preferred description is that proffered by Jeremy Hanley, the minister responsible for Hong Kong, who says the new building is "a fitting symbol of Britain's continuing commitment to Hong Kong".

The idea for it came from Margaret Thatcher in 1988, four years after the deal on the transfer of power was signed. Keen on the notion of Britain leaving a lasting impression, she decreed that all the British institutions should be housed in a single prestige building.

Yet there is no getting away from the fact that after Britain pulls out of Hong Kong on 30 June, its last outpost will sustain a distinctly fort- like appearance. The architect, Terry Farrell, may have intended to provide an impression of space and light but, perched on a hill, and clad in granite and slate, the building looks as though it is ready to repel marauders.

It houses the biggest passport-issuing office outside Britain and a staff of 150 engaged on consulate work, in addition to 192 employed by the British Council.

The council operation has not got off to a smooth start, thanks to a decision to dispense with 20,000 library books to make space for information terminals. The books are on their way to Vietnamese public libraries.

The decision to decimate Hong Kong's leading English- language library infuriated Arthur Hacker, a former civil servant and historian, who launched a campaign to bring the books back. "I saw some mindless bureaucrat who said the books had all been put on CD-Rom," he said. "They claim there isn't room, but there's enough room there to swing 20,000 cats."

The council says it is simply moving with the times. "Providing access to the culture of Britain does not solely rely on books," said the spokeswoman, Renee Fok. Use of the Internet and other electronic means offered a more comprehensive method of reflecting the diversity of British culture, she said.

The British Council is supposed to do what it can to pay its own way and does a brisk business in teaching - not only English but also Chinese.

The top layer of the former British-forces complex has been taken over by a rising new building which will house the new Chinese foreign ministry. It will cost almost a lot more than the British building but much of the cost will be met by the ubiquitous Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing. The new masters have far more people to house and it is a fair bet that their work will be rather more influential than that of their counterparts in the British complex below them.

Washington - President Bill Clinton said yesterday that Hong Kong's economic value to China would be undermined if Peking were to limit political freedom, John Carlin writes. "I'm not so sure that [HK] can exist with all of its potential to help China modernise its own economy, and open opportunities for its own people, if the civil liberties are crushed," Mr Clinton said. He said he believed that improvement in the human rights situation in China was as inevitable eventually as was the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future