Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister who oversaw the agreement which led to the handover of the British overseas territory of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), has died of a stroke at 87.
As loathsome as Thatcher’s foreign policy was – she supported Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and apartheid South Africa, dismissed Nelson Mandela’s ANC as “terrorists” and put Anglo-Irish relations back a decade – her dealings with the Communist powers are typically fêted, even by her critics. She famously said of Soviet premier Mikael Gorbachev that he was a man “we can do business with”. Despite her close alliance with Ronald Reagan, Thatcher ignored much of the anti-communist hysteria which still gripped the US. As prime minister she led negotiations with Deng Xiaoping to cede British control of Hong Kong to the PRC.
The People’s Daily published a lengthy tribute under the headline “Thatcher helped push ties with China“:
“Thatcher was very willing to develop relations with China,” [Feng Zhongping, an expert on European issues at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations] said. “She had some concerns on settling the Hong Kong question at first, but after she visited China and talked to Deng Xiaoping, she changed her mind to facilitate a historic joint declaration between the two governments,” Feng said.
In an obsequious ‘personal remembrance’ in China Daily US, Zhang Chunyan writes:
I knew lots of stories about Lady Thatcher when I was a student. She was an outstanding woman and is admired by many Chinese girls and women.
Lord Charles Powell, her foreign affairs adviser and private secretary when she was prime minister, told me on Monday: “Margaret Thatcher attached very great importance to relations with China, and especially the peaceful return of Hong Kong to China’s sovereignty, which she negotiated with Mr Deng Xiaoping.”
Zhang quotes two British expats, one positive about Thatcher’s legacy, the other neutral, perhaps unable to find any negative sentiments mild enough to be publishable.
In ‘Thatcher left UK and China a mixed legacy‘ the Global Times editorial staff writes:
The win-win spirit China brings to international politics is expanding. We have reasons to show respect to this woman that signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration. But at the same time, the world should move on.
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post highlights Thatcher’s attachment to the former British territory:
In a 2007 radio interview with Hong Kong businessman David Tang Wing-cheung, she said that before the 1982 talks she had wanted “a continuation of British administration” in Hong Kong. “But when this proved impossible, I saw the opportunity to preserve most of what was unique to Hong Kong through applying Mr Deng’s [‘one country, two systems’] idea,” she said.
Finally, here is a video of Thatcher falling down the steps of the Great Hall of the People (via Beijing Cream):