Documents show Thatcher concerned for Hong Kong

Newly declassified diplomatic documents show that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed concern over the future of Hong Kong after the Tiananmen Square incident.

On June 4, 1989, the Chinese People's Liberation Army used force against pro-democracy students and other demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The crackdown resulted in many deaths and injuries.

Thatcher was prime minister of the UK from 1979 to 1990. She negotiated the handover of Hong Kong with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

The joint declaration on the reversion of the territory was signed in 1984 and Hong Kong was handed over in 1997.

The documents provide details of a conversation between Thatcher and then Japanese ambassador to Britain Chiba Kazuo that took place on September 14, 1989.

The prime minister detailed her conversations with Deng. She said that Deng did not comprehend that the British government was subject to legal strictures.

Thatcher described Deng as insisting that laws can be changed to suit the government. She went on to say that she thought problems China was then facing stemmed from this way of thinking.

She visited Japan five days later and met then Japanese foreign minister Nakayama Taro.

During that meeting, she suggested that the 5 million residents of Hong Kong must be feeling great anxiety about a government that was capable of treating its own citizens in such a way.

Kyushu University Associate Professor Nakashima Takuma specializes in the history of the second half of the twentieth century. He comments that the records read as if Thatcher could foresee the events that have recently unfolded in Hong Kong.

He also describes Thatcher's notion that there was little respect for the rule of law among the leadership in China as being of great interest from a historical point of view.