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The Hong Kong Diaries

The Hong Kong Diaries

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It struck me that in hindsight we had the benefit of some effective political figures, including John Major, during that time - if only we had known it then.

Unexpectedly, his opponents included not only the Chinese themselves, but some British businessmen and civil service mandarins upset by Patten’s efforts, for whom political freedom and the rule of law in Hong Kong seemed less important than keeping on the right side of Beijing. p. 317); “The sins of blimps in blazers at the Hong Kong Club, now retired to Gloucestershire or Scotland with their millions, are going to rebound on us. When MP for Bath (1979-92) he served as Minister for Overseas Development, Secretary of State for the Environment and Chairman of the Conservative Party.This might suggest that the new volume retreads familiar ground, but it is new in two major respects. Here are some remarkable snippets: “I am going to have to go on making the distinction between what so many rich people think is all right for Hong Kong and what they want for their own families. Over the next five years he kept this diary, which describes in detail how Hong Kong was run as a British colony and what happened as the handover approached.

In the course of his diaries, Patten argues convincingly that for Britain or any other country to abandon liberal principles and yield to the Chinese Communist party's demands at every opportunity brings neither political nor commercial benefits. p.371-2); “Efforts to give Hong Kong the civilized standards we require are denounced as drags on our competitiveness and as examples of my Fabian socialism.Patten’s goal was to ensure the 1997 handover to China went as smoothly as possible, while at the same time entrenching the rule of law and trying to extend democracy.

Patten has now published his diaries of five tumultuous years in office, from 1992 to 1997, recording battles against the comrades, the tycoons, the doubters in the cabinet and mandarins everywhere. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. From reading them, you would never guess how heavily invested British security and intelligence were in Hong Kong.

There were serious ructions with China along the way, and some within Hong Kong itself, about the new airport, passport rights, civil service pensions, Vietnamese refugees and, more than anything else, Patten’s reforms. As an insider's account, The Hong Kong Diaries is filled with that daily sense of grappling with a multi-headed hydra . a terrific tale, one that will appeal not just to Sinologists but to all historians, since it is effectively a record of the end days of an empire . Percy Cradock, former ambassador to Beijing and described as “working actively to scupper what we are trying to do”, is the chief villain of the piece.

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