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Looking Back 22 Years To The Handover Of Hong Kong From Britain To China


Now, as we mentioned, today's protests in Hong Kong come on the 22nd anniversary of the handover of the territory from British to Chinese control. That transfer began more than a decade before the official handover in 1997, when Britain's 99-year lease on the territory would run out.


Under the agreement, for 50 years, Hong Kong would be a, quote, "special administrative region of China." It would keep its capitalist system, have its own government. It would be known as one country, two systems.


MARGARET THATCHER: We have got an agreement which is acceptable overwhelmingly to the people of Hong Kong. That agreement will extend into 50 years beyond 1997. I feel we have done a good job for the people of Hong Kong.

CORNISH: That's British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 after signing the agreement.

KELLY: Then, 22 years ago today, with an abundance of pageantry, the British flag was lowered.


KELLY: And the Chinese flag was raised.


CORNISH: Chris Patten, the last British governor, was optimistic as he bade Hong Kong farewell.


CHRIS PATTEN: The story of this great city is about the years before this night and the years of success that will surely follow it.

KELLY: Others were less optimistic. Many people fled the territory in the 1990s for fear of Chinese rule.

CORNISH: But some who stayed hoped to see democracy take hold. There was a hope that there would be direct elections for the chief executive, for example.

KELLY: But when Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China's control over Hong Kong only expanded, and executive elections became a flashpoint.


KELLY: In 2014, pro-democracy protesters spilled onto the streets demanding universal suffrage. They were met with tear gas and by riot police. Joshua Wong was one of the protest leaders who would eventually be jailed for his role.


JOSHUA WONG: We're trying to tell you something impossible to possible. It's really a long road for us, especially in the history. None of the city can achieve democracy or universal suffrage under the rule of Communist Party.

CORNISH: It would be known as the umbrella movement for the way protesters shielded themselves from tear gas. It's a symbol that's been carried on to today's protests.

KELLY: Joshua Wong was released from prison two weeks ago. He is not planning on giving up the fight anytime soon.


WONG: I believe in the next few weeks, before the 22 anniversary of Hong Kong transfer of sovereignty, more and more Hong Kong people will come and join our fight until the day we get back our basic human rights and freedom.

KELLY: Joshua Wong. Today, he was one of the protesters back in the streets fighting for the Democratic freedoms hoped for 22 years ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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