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 Speech at a Community Lunch in Hong Kong – 5 September 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at a community lunch held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Thursday 5th September 1991.


Mr. Chief Secretary:

Thank you very much indeed for that very generous introduction.

I am very conscious of one thing as I arrive at the rostrum at the moment: I am very conscious that it is only my speech that stands between you and lunch and I promise I shan’t forget that and will be mercifully brief but may I say firstly, that I am very delighted to be here, to be back in Hong Kong. It is many years since I first came and many years in fact since I was last here and I have been able to look with huge interest and the most tremendous admiration at what you have achieved here. We see it from afar but I think it is only when you come and see it, you see the enormous development that there has been here, the tremendous success of Hong Kong, that you realise fully why it is such a unique and remarkable place and I am delighted to be here today.

There is no doubt about the changes you have made since last I came here. In those days, many years ago, cricket was played at Central and it seemed to me then that the tallest building in sight was the Hilton Hotel though I doubt one could say that today. There was no cross-harbour tunnel, no mass transit railway, the new towns in the new territories did not exist and the hillsides were covered with squatter villages, and how it has changed. Now, much of Hong Kong looks more like Manhattan or perhaps for greater accuracy I might say Manhattan looks like much of Hong Kong. One of the newest and perhaps – what shall I say? – most striking buildings belongs to the Standard. Chartered Bank, for which I worked for many years. It is a very striking construction.

In twenty-five years, your community of Hong Kong has made stunning progress. Despite your small geographic size – though I am bound to say each time I come you seem to have reclaimed a little more and become just a little bit bigger – you are now the eleventh largest trading economy in the world. My priority and my reason for being here today is to ensure that Hong Kong can continue to work its miracle, that you can continue your success in conditions of stability, justice and freedom; that is the British Government’s policy and it will remain so in the future.

Earlier this week, I visited Peking. Frankly, it was not the easiest visit to embark upon. We have shared interests with China, important shared interests but fewer shared values. There were many critics of the visit but I profoundly believe that those critics were wrong. It was right for me to go and it was right for Hong Kong that I went, I say that because my essential objective was to work for the success of the Joint Declaration and for the future of Hong Kong; that could not be done from afar and it could not be done without contacts with the Chinese at the very highest level.

I believe it is worth setting out what we have achieved in the talks leading up to my visit to Peking and in the discussions I held with Li Peng and other Chinese leaders earlier this week:

First, we have the Memorandum of Understanding on the airport. That is a crucial document, a document that secures the airport that Hong Kong needs for its future development as one of the great financial and trading centres of the world. Without it, Hong Kong would have been hamstrung, confidence would have dwindled. Now that the document is signed, work can go speedily ahead on all the airport core projects but the Memorandum does more than that: it opens the way to significantly improved cooperation with China in the interests of Hong Kong.

Secondly, we have secured clear-cut public Chinese reaffirmation of their commitment to honour the Joint Declaration in letter and in spirit.

Thirdly, we have set up a mechanism to end the blockage on productive discussion in the Joint Liaison Group. The Chinese have undertaken to give greater priority than ever before to the work of the Group and this will enable us to reach decisions more speedily and in those areas where it is difficult to reach decisions – and there will always be some areas of that sort – the matters in dispute will now be referred to the regular meetings we have established between the Chinese Foreign Minister and Douglas Hurd and if that fails, I can promise you that I will seek to deal with the matter myself directly with the Chinese.

Fourthly, we have obtained an extremely important agreement in principle on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. Its judges will be appointed as Hong Kong judges are now on the recommendation of the independent Judicial Services Commission; that guarantees the continued independence of the judiciary; no-one here, I believe, will need telling how important that is and contrary to some speculation this morning, there is no disagreement on how to tackle the question of overseas judges.

Fifthly, we have agreement for Hong Kong to make its own investment, promotion and protection agreements; there is no doubt or dispute about that.

Sixthly, we have cleared the way for a new Consulate General. Our intention is to build such a Consulate and not just lease premises. We will demonstrate not just to Hong Kong but to people beyond Hong Kong the confidence we have in the Territory and its future not merely in the approach to 1997 but well beyond it.

I am confining myself here to things we have actually achieved, things now safely and securely under our belts. That does not mean there has not been considerable effort and significant progress on other matters but I will leave them, if I may, to subsequent bulletins.

As it is, we have been able to promote Hong Kong’s interests in a substantial way and at the same time to express very firmly to the Chinese our concern on certain aspects of the internal situation in that country. We have also been able to discuss with them our common responsibilities as nuclear powers and also as permanent members of the Security Council.

I understand very well the concern that people here feel that Britain will no longer have its traditional role in Hong Kong after 1997 and it is true we shall not. The sovereignty of Hong Kong will pass to China after 1997 – there is no way of avoiding that – but we had a choice between an unqualified transfer with no protection at all for Hong Kong and the Joint Declaration with a whole array of detailed provisions securing Hong Kong’s freedoms and way of life for at least fifty years, an international treaty to which Chinese leaders this week reaffirmed their commitment.

We shall after 1997 no longer have our historic responsibility for Hong Kong. That is true but in no sense is that the end of the story. The guarantees in the Joint Declaration will still apply; the Joint Liaison Group goes on until the year 2000; but there is something else: the ending of responsibility for Hong Kong will not mean that what happens here ceases to matter to us. Long after 1997, the people of Hong Kong will have a strong and a staunch friend in the United Kingdom. We shall remain investors; we shall remain trading partners; we shall watch, as the world will, the implementation of the Joint Declaration to which Britain and China are both committed and as for the immediate future, many problems remain and the Governor and members of EXCO have briefed me thoroughly on them.

I would, if I may, like to pay a very sincere tribute here to the Hong Kong Government, to the Governor, to you Chief Secretary and to the entire Civil Service for their tireless commitment to promote the interests all the people of Hong Kong. The dedication and the efficiency of the Hong Kong Government are typical of Hong Kong as a whole.

A crucial element in laying the foundations for Hong Kong’s future success is constitutional development. Next week, the LEGCO elections will take place. For the first time, there will be directly-elected members of LEGCO. Also for the first time the new LEGCO will have a majority of elected members. I hope there will be a very large turn-out. I know that some think the pace of democratisation has not been fast enough, others think it has been too fast, but we have agreed with the Chinese a rising curve of directly-elected seats stretching well beyond 1997. It is never possible to carry out changes of this kind with universal agreement. I know, as I indicated a moment ago, that some in Hong Kong are concerned that the changes have come about too quickly and that others believe they have been too slow; some think that directly-elected LEGCO members may have a destabilising effect, others feel precisely the reverse, I understand all those concerns and the others that are rightly being voiced but I trust the people of Hong Kong to show the sense of responsibility and other qualities necessary to make a success of the changes we have put in hand. We have struck a balance in the constitutional changes and I profoundly believe that the balance we have struck is the right balance in the interests of Hong Kong.

To those who are directly elected, let me just say this: once elected, you will gain a good deal of power but you will also have a great deal of responsibility, a responsibility that will impose obligations; you will need to carefully balance that as you take your decisions in the future.
Throughout the whole world at present, momentous changes are taking place. For the last two days, I have been discussing them in Peking; on Sunday, I was discussing them in Moscow; and last week in the United States and I took the opportunity whilst in the United States of thanking President Bush for his support for the renewal of Most Favoured Nation status for China which is so critically important also for Hong Kong. That is something we are all working hard to bring about – I hope that we shall be successful.

Chief Secretary, I don’t under-estimate for a single moment the challenges to Hong Kong in the approach to 1997. You will have to show courage and confidence every day but you are not alone. Our job is to make the road to 1997 and beyond as smooth, as stable and the destination as secure as we possibly can; that is why it was right to visit Peking. The majority of people in Britain understand that need to protect Hong Kong’s interests. So do I, so does Douglas Hurd, so do all of us in the British Government and that is what we will continue to do to safeguard Hong Kong’s future, its prosperity and its freedoms; it matters to us and we will discharge our responsibilities.