The Foreign Service Journal - December 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2017 33 Navigating Hong Kong’s Return to China Hong Kong 1992 • By Richard W. Mueller United States diplomacy and law were critical in continuing our deep and extensive relationships with Hong Kong and China after July 1, 1997—the date Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty and became a special administrative region of China. Without the multiyear effort of the Department of State, Congress and other federal agencies, we would have been unable to work with Hong Kong, China and the United Kingdom to maintain many of the important relationships allowed by China’s unique “one country, two systems” formula for Hong Kong. Without the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 and subsequent detailed negotiations, we would have had to impose the same restrictive relationships that we had with the PRC on Hong Kong— an open, free market territory with a solid tradition of liberties and law. This would have created a crisis not only in Hong Kong but in our relationships with China and other countries. Some important background: In 1898, Great Britain forced on a weakened Qing dynasty a treaty extending (via a 99-year lease) the boundaries of Hong Kong well beyond the island and the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, which had been seized by Britain in 1842 and 1860, respectively. Claude MacDonald, Britain’s negotiator, declared that 99 years was “as good as forever.” But as China began to open up during the 1980s, the 1997 deadline loomed frighteningly close. The question of Hong Kong’s future status was on everyone’s minds, both before and after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing that drove people and capital to seek safe haven. No option other than the return of sovereignty was acceptable to China. But a straight handover and the imposition of Chi- nese laws and governance would have caused untold chaos and decline in Hong Kong, an important international financial and trading center. In the fall of 1983, as chief of the economic section at U.S. Con- sulate General Hong Kong, I witnessed a foretaste of what a failure to secure the future might mean. A severe crash in the Hong Kong dollar and the stock market, along with panic buying of essentials, gripped the city for days in the wake of a collapse in high-level United Kingdom-China negotiations. PHOTOCOURTESYRICHARDW.MUELLER View of Hong Kong.