Seconds out as China sets clock ticking for HK

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The Independent Online
As every traveller to China is frequently reminded, this is a country with 5,000 years of history. And as all visitors to Tiananmen Square discovered yesterday afternoon, that leaves a mere 79,860,342 seconds, and counting, before Hong Kong is returned to the motherland.

The Chinese have a warning about "wang yan yu chuan", which means something like: straining one's eye to watch for the return of one's dear one. But that is what seemed to be happening when a huge electronic digital timer was unveiled outside the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, and the clock started ticking on the number of days and seconds before midnight, 30 June 1997. As if to emphasise the frostiness in Sino-British relations, the temperature had dived and the snow fallen overnight, so the school band was relieved of its responsibilities to serenade the start of the countdown. From today there are 924 days to go.

The return of Hong Kong is, of course, only the first step in reassembling Greater China under one flag. So yesterday it was Cheng Siyuan, a former general with the nationalist Kuomintang, who cut the red ribbon and unveiled the countdown clock. Mr Chengnow works with the mainland China Council for Promoting Peaceful Reunification, which has set its sights on an even more prized target, Taiwan.

The occasion also marked the 10th anniversary of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which set out the principles for the handback. In a strident editorial the official newspaper, China Daily, yesterday took the opportunity to lambaste the Hong Kong Governor, Chris Patten's stand over electoral reform. It noted: "The Chinese people, long seasoned in complicated world political struggles, are never bewildered or daunted by zig-zags."