The Inside Story of Hong Kong: taken from China, returned to China, with Ambassador Hugh Davies

Ambassador Hugh Davies, the British Diplomat who led the 1997 negotiations with China

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Hugh Davies will begin the story of Hong Kong by exploring Britain’s historic relationship with China. His talk, liberally illustrated, will take us via the Opium Wars and the acquisition of Hong Kong, through the often fraught 19th and early 20th centuries, up to 1984's agreement between Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping. This determined the return of Hong Kong to China, and culminated in the Handover of Sovereignty in 1997.

These were extraordinarily interesting and complex times, even by Chinese standards. Hugh Davies was the British Senior Representative (Ambassador) in the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group and led the British and Hong Kong teams for the final four years of difficult negotiations with the Chinese.

Here he recounts the tensions and frustrations of those talks and the final successful outcome, witnessed on the television screens of the world. He will also touch on how matters have progressed in Hong Kong in the last 17 years. The most recent eruptions show that tensions still run high. Demonstrations against the Chinese Government’s decision to rule out full democratic elections and to veto Hong Kong’s right to freely choose its next leader, have seen protesters taking to the streets, confronted by riot police.

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Hugh Davies

Hugh has had the most intense, full and fascinating career. As a Chinese language student in Hong Kong in 1966-68, he witnessed at first hand the full wrath of the Cultural Revolution’s most violent phase in 1967, which included the destruction of the British mission in Peking by Red Guards and very serious riots in Hong Kong, before he served for two years in Peking (Beijing) in that same burnt out British mission, as relations very slowly thawed.

Back in London on the China desk he helped achieve the agreement to upgrade relations to Ambassadorial rank. In 1979 he arranged the State Visit to the UK of the then Chinese paramount leader, Hua Guofeng, who succeeded Mao. He returned, from 1984 to 1987, as commercial counsellor to a very different China now anxious to do business with the West and re-entering the mainstream of international relations. During this tenure he met many of the most important Chinese leaders.

In 1993 he was posted to Hong Kong, initially as Senior Trade Commissioner and then as Ambassador leading the detailed negotiations for the Return of Hong Kong, a period marked by the Governorship of Chris Patten, with whom he worked extremely closely and whom we all remember from that intensely moving, and intensely televised, parting ceremony.

Hugh was born in India, educated at Rugby and Cambridge and worked in HM Diplomatic Service for 33 years in the Sinological cadre, serving twice in Beijing, twice in Hong Kong, once in Singapore and twice in Western Europe as well as having four stints in the FCO. His final overseas posting in Hong Kong (1993-97) saw him as Ambassador handling the details of the Handover completed on 30 June 1997.

He now works as a China business consultant. He is chairman of the China Association, and Vice Chairman of the Great Britain China Centre as well as holding a number of other China-related directorships.

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2018, 2014Martin Keeley