June 30, 2012
HONG KONG – It was 15 years ago today. General China taught the Brits to play. That was, of course, the Hong Kong handover – a milestone in Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping’s “crossing the river while feeling the stones” strategy. First, command “to get rich is glorious”. Then develop the special economic zones. Get Hong Kong back from the Brits. Then, one day, annex Taiwan. And perhaps, by 2040, evolve to some variant of Western parliamentary democracy.
Those were heady days. There were only faint rumblings about a possible financial crisis in Asia. Mainland China media carped about the “humiliations” of the past – including heavy promotion for a blockbuster telling the real story of the Opium Wars. In Hong Kong island, daily showers thundered with fear. Will the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cross the border at midnight in a blitzkrieg and militarize all the malls in Kowloon? Will we be duly indoctrinated as model communists?
For a foreign correspondent, there was nowhere else to be. The Foreign Correspondents Club buzzed like in a perpetual rock concert. At the hip Shanghai Tang store, a waving Deng wristwatch was all the rage. The days went by with plenty of huffing and puffing around to find interviews and gauge the prospects of doom from residents and analysts. Then the long, sweaty nights partying at the Club 1997 in Lan Kwai Fong – and having to beat the hangover back at the hotel to write copy solid enough to fill two newspaper pages a day.
In the end, the proceedings were as normal as Deng would have thought. Chris Patten – the last governor – left in an anti-climax. The British Empire was over. There was no PLA “invasion”. The party at Club 1997 was monstrous. The day after, massive hangover included, the real celebration began. I boarded a plane to China.
This article was posted: Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 6:06 am