China and Hong Kong

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 13th July 1989.

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Sir .Julian Ridsdale:

The Foreign Secretary, in his excellent and wise speech, said that the Joint Declaration of 1984 was a triumph of diplomacy. Yes, it was, but, in my right hon. and learned Friend's modest way, he did not speak of the great part that he played in that triumph. We should be grateful to him not only for his experience, but for the part that he played in negotiating the 1984 agreement. We should also be grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his recent visit to Hong Kong. In the face of great difficulty, he resisted giving way to some demands that would have been extremely difficult to meet.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that it was important that we get deeds as well as words from China, which would be a clear message of assurance to the Hong Kong people, and that he hoped that that would happen as soon as possible. That is what we should aim to achieve. I know the tragedy of what happened in Tiananmen square—I know that square well, as I have visited it on many occasions. Over and above the tragedies that occurred, however, it is in the interests of Asia and in the interests of all of us that we get such an assurance from China as soon as possible.

Yes, the Joint Declaration of 1984, which is now seriously jeopardised, had international support and good will. All that was undermined by the happenings in Tiananmen square. I understand the deep anxiety felt by the Hong Kong citizens. I served there as a soldier at the outbreak of the 1939 war and I experienced the loyalty to the Crown given by its people. That loyalty was also expressed during the war and during the Falklands war. I appreciate the need for prompt action to restore confidence; otherwise the unique position of Hong Kong as a financial centre could be seriously harmed before 1997.

As the Foreign Secretary said, our problem now is to stop the exodus of essential personnel and the international community must also play its part. It is in our interests, in China's interests, and, in this independent, global world, in everyone's interest that we have international support. If we do, we will have a greater chance of keeping Hong Kong as a thriving financial centre, to the benefit not only of China but of the world. That is why I was glad that the Foreign Secretary underlined that that was one of the important questions that would be discussed at the summit meetings. That is the perfect opportunity for such a discussion and we are fortunate to have it.

I have visited China a number of times, but the visits I recall most are those that I made in 1979, 1987 and 1988. In 1987, I led an all-party delegation and I was fortunate enough to have the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) as a member of that delegation. I understood the strong feelings he expressed when he made a statement to the House about the Chinese Government. When I visited China in 1979, I thought the conditions were austere, but the hon. Member for Warley, East told me that I should have been there a few years before, when things were much worse and contact even more difficult.

What a difference it was when we visited in 1987. There was investment in industry, and new hotels were being erected. I visited Peking and Shanghai and, in comparison to 1979, China had almost doubled her standard of living. I also met members of the People's Liberation Army. I was fortunate enough to take my young grandson aged 14 as a travelling companion. I can vividly recall the great reception we were given and how the Chinese Minister for Education sat him down on a couch and said that he could give my grandson a bird's eye view of China in 15 minutes.

When I visited China in 1988, even more change was taking place. There had been great economic progress, but it was noticeable that the Government were encountering difficulties, because at the same time as expansion had taken place, inflation was also rising.

I am sure that President Nixon, in his excellent article in The Sunday Times, was right when he said that we must keep our presence in China behind the wall. I had to deal with Japan when it was controlled by a military power. Where there are extremists, it is important to try to support liberals and others. One must not lose contact with such regimes, but one must also realise that one is not dealing with the same type of regime as is found in Europe; one is dealing with an establishment, not a democratic regime. We are fortunate that President Bush is at the summit, as he understands China so well. He was a China hand. He is a moderate, and he will understand only too well some of the difficulties that we face.

Despite the difficulties and the drama of recent months, we must keep in contact with China. It is easy to get political applause by saying that the events of recent months were horrific. They certainly were, but a friend of mine, a distinguished China hand, told me that such things had happened in China in the past 30 years. He said that there had been four or five such incidents in the past, but that modern communication had made democracy difficult for China. Modern communication has brought such events home. Therefore, we must ensure that we have the confidence to overcome the difficulties.

What a difference it is for me to consider Asia today, with the Pacific rim producing 40 per cent. of the world's gross national product, compared with the Asia of 50 years ago when I visited Hong Kong for the first time. I knew then that war was ahead of us and that, for Asia, disaster lay ahead. We have overcome those difficulties and the difficulties that we face now are much easier than those of the past.

I hope that we shall try to speed contacts with the Chinese Government, who are by no means all extremists. If we can do that, we shall achieve what my hon. and right hon. and learned Friend advocated. He is right to say that it is important that we get deeds as well as words from China, and that a clear message of assurance is given to the Hong Kong people as soon as possible. I hope that that happens, as it will be in the interests of China, Hong Kong, this nation and the world.