Chairman of the Central Military Commission Deng Xiaoping meets British Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher in Beijing in 1984.
In 1840 Britain launched the Opium War against China, and in 1842 it forced the Qing government to sign the Treaty of Nanjing, according to which Hong Kong Island was permanently ceded to Britain. In 1856 the Anglo-French forces launched the second Opium War, and in 1860 Britain forced the Qing government to conclude the Convention of Beijing, under which the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula was likewise permanently ceded to Britain. Taking advantage of moves by other powers to stake out spheres of influence in China, in 1898 Britain once again forced the Qing government to sign a treaty, the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong.
Under this convention Britain was granted a 99-year lease on a large stretch of land on the Kowloon Peninsula and more than 200 surrounding islets (referred to as the "New Territories"), a lease that is due to expire on June 30, 1997. The Chinese people have always been opposed to the three unequal treaties.
Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the consistent position of the Chinese government has been that Hong Kong is part of China's territory. It does not recognize the three unequal treaties imposed on China by the imperialist power and has always held that the question of Hong Kong should be settled through negotiation when conditions were ripe and that until that time the status quo should be maintained.
After the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee, held in December 1978, the Chinese people began to work on the three major tasks of realizing socialist modernization, achieving the reunification of the motherland, and opposing hegemonism and safeguarding world peace. Deng Xiaoping proposed that the Taiwan and Hong Kong questions be resolved in accordance with the concept of "one country, two systems". Meanwhile, as the year 1997 drew nearer, Britain kept exploring China's position on the Hong Kong question. Under these circumstances, the conditions for settling the question were ripe.
The talks held by the Chinese and British governments for this purpose were divided into two stages. In the first stage, between September 1982, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited China, and June 1983, the talks centred on overall principles and procedures. In the second stage, between July 1983 and September 1984, delegations of the two governments held 22 rounds of talks on specific substantive issues.
On September 24, 1982, Deng Xiaoping met with Mrs. Thatcher. The Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang had already talked with her earlier. On that occasion the Premier had officially notified Britain that the Chinese government had decided to recover the entire Hong Kong area in 1997. At the same time, he had explained that after that China would apply special policies towards Hong Kong. For example, a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would be established, Hong Kong would be administered by its local Chinese people and its current social and economic systems and way of life would remain unchanged. However, Mrs. Thatcher had insisted that the three unequal treaties should still hold good, saying that if China agreed to Britain's continued administration of Hong Kong after 1997, Britain would take China's claim to sovereignty over the territory into consideration.
It was in response to these remarks that Deng Xiaoping had an important talk with Mrs. Thatcher. Thanks to this talk, the two sides agreed to hold negotiations on the settlement of the Hong Kong question through diplomatic channels. During the next six months, because the British side stuck to its position on the question of sovereignty over Hong Kong, there was no progress in the negotiations. However, in March 1983 Mrs. Thatcher wrote to the Chinese Premier promising that at a certain stage she would propose to the British Parliament that sovereignty over all of Hong Kong be returned to China. She also expressed the hope that the two sides would hold substantive talks at the earliest possible date. In April the Chinese Premier wrote her back, saying that the Chinese government agreed to hold formal talks as soon as possible.