Sunday (July 1st) is the 10th anniversary of the "handover". Much is being made of this even though 10 years is a totally arbitrary period of time. Well, it fills up newspapers, I suppose.
Back in 1997 it seemed that everyone I met in the UK wanted to know what had changed in Hong Kong on 1 July. The honest (but dull) answer was that Brits had lost their special privileges and would need a working visa, but pretty much everything else was the same as before.
I suppose this anniversary will prompt a few people to ask the same question, and the answer is equally dull. I could probably find dozens of articles that say much the same thing as this one (HK after the handover) in The Times:
The guns still fire at noon across Causeway Bay, Queen Victoria continues to gaze down sternly from her plinth on Statue Square, the street signs remain in English and Chinese, and you can still order a mean Martini at the Mandarin Oriental bar ...
Tourist officials, tour operators and expats living in Hong Kong say that little has changed in the day-to-day life of residents and those visiting the former British colony since the handover from Britain to China a decade ago.
When pushed on any significant changes, Richard Hume, director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board in the UK, simply said: “Well, the post boxes are now green.” Before, he said, they were red.
For a place in which many predicted huge upheaval after the 1997 handover, the transition to Chinese control seems to have gone remarkably smoothly. “Many people thought that things would change for the worse,” Hume said. “In fact, the changeover has made things better.”
The Economist also has a special report on the 10th anniversary of the handover, which also concludes that not much has changed:
THE torrential rain that fell on Britain's end-of-empire parade on the night of June 30th 1997 conjured up apocalyptic visions of the future of Hong Kong. Prince Charles bequeathed a sodden city to Jiang Zemin, China's president, and left on board his yacht with Chris (now Lord) Patten, the last British governor. That very night the city's new masters swore in a new “provisional” legislature appointed to replace one elected under British rule. Television cameramen flocked to the territory's borders with China to film the arrival of the People's Liberation Army. It proved to be almost the last chance to see those soldiers in Hong Kong: they disappeared into their barracks. There were no round-ups of degenerates, dissidents or democrats, and no newspaper closures.
It is tempting to argue that Hong Kong has changed China more than the other way round, as this newspaper and others forecast in 1997. Certainly China has changed the more, though Hong Kong's role in this—compared with, for example, the dynamic momentum of China's internal reforms, and the country's accession to the World Trade Organisation—is debatable. Yet as Hong Kong and China celebrate the tenth anniversary of their reunion, their self-congratulation seems justified. An experiment without historic precedent, the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty while keeping its unique way of life, has come off—so far.
What has not changed in the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” SAR of China is more obvious than what has. The city streets still hum to the rhythm of commerce. The skyline remains one of the glories of urban ambition.
Then there was Fortune magazine, which admit that they got it wrong with their predictions in 1995 (The death of Hong Kong), with a mea culpa in the current issue (I can't find it online).
Of course Hong Kong has changed, but not because of the Handover. The main factor has been the astonishing growth of China, but that started long before the Handover. Being a British colony didn't seem to be much of a handicap for Hong Kong, and being part of China hasn't brought any significant advantages. The reality is that it has suited Hong Kong businesses to relocate their factories to China, and it has greatly benefited China to have that expertise available.