Hong Kong – History
The area was sparsely populated until 1842 and served as a base for English and American opium smugglers. After the Opium War, Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842; with the end of The Arrow Warin 1860 the southern end of the Kowloon Peninsula followed, and in 1898 Britain received a 99-year lease on the New Territories in addition to 235 islands. Hong Kong became an important warehouse for trade between China and the West; the population grew due to refugee flows from China in connection with unrest and famine and passed 300,000 at the beginning of the 1900-t. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in 1941-45, the population declined considerably, but after the Communist victory in China in 1949, more than 1 million, including many of China’s most talented businessmen, fled to the British colony, which ushered in strong economic growth. In addition, since the early 1980’s, Hong Kong has been the center of investment in China.
With a view to the expiry of the 1997 lease, Britain was forced to enter into negotiations with China, and in 1984 an agreement on Hong Kong’s return to China was signed on 1 July 1997. Under the principle of “one country – two systems”, which was formulated by Deng Xiaoping, Hong Kong must function as a special administrative area with great autonomy for a 50-year transition period. The Basic Law, which applies to Hong Kong from 1997, was ratified by China in 1990.
In 1984, Britain embarked on a cautious process of democratization; the first indirect elections to the Hong Kong Legislative Council was held in 1985, and the first direct elections in 1991. However, China considered the democratization process a British attempt to secure continued influence in Hong Kong. The antagonisms between China and Britain intensified following the appointment in 1992 of Christopher Patten (b. 1944) as British Governor of Hong Kong. Patten announced plans for further democratization of the electoral system to the Legislative Council. This reform plan did not challenge the sovereign power of the governor, but exploited ambiguities in The Basic Law regarding the transitional period. It unleashed anger in the Chinese leadership, which had not been involved in the negotiations. The reform was implemented with elections 1994-95; however, a good election for the pro-Chinese wing of the Legislative Council together with a turnout of less than 40% meant that the result was not a clear British victory.
In December 1995, China appointed a “Preparatory Committee” for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and announced that the Legislative Council (LegCo) would be dissolved immediately after July 1, 1997. Since 1997, Hong Kong has developed real political parties. In the years since 2003, every year on 1 July, there have been large demonstrations demanding equal and universal suffrage. In December 2005, the Hong Kong Government submitted a proposal for moderate extensions of voters’ rights; insufficient, in the view of the democratic opposition, and the opposition proved able to block the proposal. The opposition’s demands for universal suffrage for the election of the country’s leader and the Legislative Assembly (LegCo), respectively, have since been postponed in practice.