As a British expatriate living in Hong Kong in the years leading up to the handover in 1997, I have to admit that I was disappointed to witness the attempts made in the last 5 years to rush through a democracy system, based on the Westminster model, which had somehow been overlooked in the previous 94 years of British rule. Not surprisingly, the Chinese Government refused to accept this and the UK missed out on many of the lucrative projects and contracts that would no doubt have been awarded to British companies if the Hong Kong handover had been more harmonious. I don’t want to blame any individuals for their role in all of this but collectively it was a huge mess up which could have been avoided with a little bit of sensitivity, diplomacy and pragmatism. Anyway, that’s all a long time ago now.
But now, as though the pre 1997 madness wasn’t bad enough, the British Government has suddenly decided (again) that they really care about the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens and want to pick a fight with China over the introduction of a new HK security law proposed by Beijing. This at a time when the British economy has contracted by 20%, the Covid crisis is still raging throughout the community and, following Brexit, Britain is presumably seeking to attract new trading partners. By all accounts, the UK-China relationship was moving in a promising direction prior to Covid and, unlike some other countries, Britain is not over-exposed to China (China accounts for only 7% of U.K. imports and 4% of exports). With the US-China relationship deteriorating further, Britain is/was/will be well positioned to take full advantage of future opportunities in China in a post covid world.
Whilst the politicians are pointing fingers and no doubt deflecting attention away from their handling of the Covid crisis, the diplomats are going to have their work cut out to sort out the mess they’re leaving behind.