“You need to put things in historical perspective”

Al Jazeera DebateFrom Al Jazeera’s “The Stream,” Sept 8:

Victor Gao (高志凯), Director of the China National Association for International Studies in Beijing (and former translator for Deng Xiaoping): “Under British rule, there was no election at all – no election at all. And uh, the British crown just appointed a governor. So you need to put things in historical perspective, and you cannot start from scratch and argue in a void.”

Evan Fowler, writer, artist, columnist in Hong Kong: “Okay, just wait, Vi- Victor, let – let – let’s get the perspective right, okay. Um, under – under Britian, they were – they were – certainly two incidences, when – when Britain – I mean, it was bizarre. I grew up in a colony, and one of the things I could never understand was why it was a colony. Britain had moved a lot of its colonial possessions to dominions, granted them self-government. The reason why self-government wasn’t granted, wasn’t Britain. It was China, because China was concerned about another government, another authority, existing on Chinese soil, which – which could be a threat to the Chinese Communist Party.”

[Femi Oke, Al Jazeera moderator, tries to break in and ask a question, but–]

Gao: “Let me ask you a question. Let me ask you a question. The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. Before 1949, did Britain appoint a governor in Hong Kong, or introduce the election in Hong Kong? So your argument is moot! You are disregarding reality and history.”

Oke: “Let’s take a breath, everybody…”

[Watch the full video here.]

[Sept 25] Tim Collard, a former UK diplomat specializing in China who spent nine years as an analyst in Beijing, wrote in the South China Morning Post yesterday:

It is often pointed out that during our control of Hong Kong, Britain never made any move towards establishing democracy. But there was little real demand for it at the time, and in any case China would have regarded any such move as a virtual act of war. Our real contribution to Hong Kong’s prosperity was keeping the territory safe from the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. [full article]

[Oct 11] A report from Quartz on declassified documents discussing the handover.

These documents—which, perhaps unbeknownst to the People’s Daily, Hong Kong journalists have been busily mining (link in Chinese)—show that not only were the Brits mulling granting Hong Kong self-governance in the 1950s; it was the Chinese government under Mao Zedong who quashed these plans, threatening invasion. And the very reason Mao didn’t seize Hong Kong in the first place was so that the People’s Republic could enjoy the economic fruits of Britain’s colonial governance. [full article]


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