The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Joint Speech with Premier Li Peng of China – 3 September 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint speech made with the Chinese Premier, Li Peng, in Peking on Tuesday 3rd September 1991. The speech was made following the signing of a memorandum of understanding for a new Hong Kong airport.


Honourable Prime Minister John Major, Ladies and Gentlemen present:

The Memorandum of Understanding concerning the construction of the new airport in Hong Kong and related questions between the Chinese and the British Governments has just been formally signed into force. This is a delightful major event as a result of the common efforts from both the Chinese and the British sides; it not only contributes to the maintenance of Hong Kong’s status as an international financial trade and business centre but also provides favourable conditions for our sides to intensify cooperation in the future on the question of Hong Kong.

One country/two systems and the maintenance of the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong are a firm policy of China which we resolve to carry out. The Chinese Government will, as in the past, continue to earnestly abide by and fully implement the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong and is committed to closer consultation and cooperation with the United Kingdom on that basis. We are convinced that in the second half of the transitional period of Hong Kong, as long as our two sides enhance mutual trust, consult fully with each other in a spirit of mutual understanding and mutual accommodation and intensify cooperation in compliance with the spirit and provisions of the Joint Declaration, the smooth transfer of government in Hong Kong in 1997 can be fully guaranteed and the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong truly maintained. In this regard, the Chinese and the British sides share a common interest. We have every reason to be fully confident of the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

The Chinese Government always attaches importance to long-term stable relations and friendship and cooperation with the United Kingdom. True, the two countries are different in social system, history, culture, heritage and values but these differences should not become obstacles to the development of our bilateral relations; recognising and respecting them and striving to seek common ground while putting aside the differences, we can be friends. We believe that there exists a solid foundation for maintaining and developing good relations between our two countries. Hong Kong is one question that binds us together. Both China and the United Kingdom are Permanent Members of the UN Security Council with major responsibilities in international affairs. Our two economies are mutually complementary, holding out great potential for mutually beneficial cooperation. In the present complicated world situation, the further improvement and expansion of Sino-British relations and closer bilateral consultations and cooperation not only serve the interests of our two peoples but also contribute to world peace and prosperity.

This morning, I held friendly, businesslike and frank talks with Prime Minister Major on Sino-British relations including the question of Hong Kong as well as international issues of common interest. As long as we respect each other and seek common ground while putting aside differences, Sino-British relations will have a broad prospect for development.

May the visit by the Honourable Prime Minister John Major be crowned with complete success. [Applause].


Mr. Premier:

We have been able to discuss many matters last evening and this morning but on this occasion we are here to sign a vitally important document. This Memorandum of Understanding provides a firm basis for building a modern airport to meet the expanding needs of Hong Kong; it is the fruit of arduous negotiations; it meets the principal concerns of all parties; on its initialling and publication two months ago, it was widely welcomed in Hong Kong and internationally.

The airport at Chek Lap Kok together with its supporting infrastructure is a massive project. I am delighted that we have with us today the Governor of Hong Kong and some of the senior members of the Hong Kong Government; it is they who have the overall responsibility for it. Work will now forge ahead. The first main call for tenders has already been issued; all such tenders will be open to international competition. I know that Hong Kong’s overriding concerns in the interests of Hong Kong taxpayers are cost efficiency and reliability; I know, too, that some first-class and experienced British companies are showing keen interest; I very much hope that they will be able to meet Hong Kong’s criteria and be able to make a substantial contribution. I am glad to hear that Chinese enterprises are also closely interested.

The construction of this new airport is vital for Hong Kong’s future stability and prosperity but it is more than that; it is also a key factor in the preservation and enhancement of Hong Kong’s role as a centre of regional and international civil aviation but I see this understanding on the airport as having a still wider significance in that it marks a new phase in the relationship between Hong Kong, Peking and London.

Seven years ago, in December 1984, the Joint Declaration was signed here in Peking by my predecessor, Margaret Thatcher. Much progress has been made towards ensuring the smooth implementation of the provisions of this historic Agreement. At first, our good relations and joint purpose ensured that progress was smooth and relatively fast. More recently, this has not been the case and we have encountered difficulties. It is, however, a tribute to our common responsibilities as Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and our shared commitment to the people of Hong Kong that despite these difficulties we continue to talk to each other and seek a solution to them.

These contacts have now been productive; thanks to them, we have been able to reach the good Agreement on Hong Kong’s new airport which we have signed today and now we look to the future. As we do so, it is clear that the Joint Declaration remains the strong corner-stone of both British and Chinese policy towards Hong Kong. In our talks today, we have confirmed our determination to implement both its letter and its spirit. Britain is wholly committed by treaty to cooperate in the restoration of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty from 1 July 1997.

For its part, China is equally committed to maintaining Hong Kong’s existing systems for 50 years thereafter. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defence affairs. We are agreed that Hong Kong people will run Hong Kong.

We have also solemnly confirmed our approach to the transition period. Up to 30 June 1997, the British Government are responsible for the administration of Hong Kong with the object of maintaining and preserving its economic prosperity and social stability; the Chinese Government will give its cooperation in this connection as we are agreed there is no question of the Chinese Government seeking any veto, condominium or joint administration. Instead, what is happening is what the Joint Declaration laid down clearly – the intensification of our cooperation during the second half of the transitional period.

Mr. Premier, this is a good Agreement. When Douglas Hurd was here in April, General Secretary Jiang Zemin talked about the transitional period before us; he used an old Chinese proverb about how people travelling in the same boat need to help each other whatever difficulties may come between them. I think that is a good metaphor. Our shared objectives have always been clear – Hong Kong’s continuing prosperity and stability. The Joint Declaration set our course; the Memorandum of Understanding helps us on our way; now we must redouble our efforts for the common benefit. That is what the people of Hong Kong will expect from both of us and that, today, is what we have committed ourselves to do. [Applause].