We mourn the loss of Lord Howe. At our Chinese New Year Dinner this year, Lord Heseltine paid a special tribute on behalf of us all for his dedication and contribution to Sino-British relations. Again on tv news today he paid tribute to a man who beyond most gave a special contribution to the UK and asked nothing, nor took anything special for it.
But for our national relations with China he was very special. For all his other great contributions the papers are full of detail of his great contributions. On China I recall him saying to me what a wise man Deng Xiaoping was for conceiving the formula of one country two systems.
My reply was had he considered his role in the emergence of that great formula that enabled the negotiations over Hong Kong to succeed.
The Chinese are very clear in their negotiating methods. They use formulae I have seen many times, and they would have been operating over Hong Kong. At an early stage they would have identified that a sizeable number of leading British people believed they had some sort of right to extend their ownership of Hong Kong. It was Deng Xiaoping who dealt with that during Mrs Thatcher’s visit to Beijing.
She was left in no doubt that Hong Kong would again be a part of China. But the terms were left unclear.
As the Chinese reviewed who would lead the British team they knew the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe , would be key. He would lead the British team to a unique agreement over Hong Kong which is outstanding in settling sovereignty questions and the systems that would change with that.
The return of Hong Kong will be regarded in history as very special, and Lord Howe played a bigger part than he knew.
The Chinese trusted his judgement and positions. That he would find positions that bridged the British and Chinese positions. It was a rare skill.
The Chinese listened carefully to what he had to say and it was from his counsel that China and Deng developed the one country two systems formula – to bridge the divide that he so carefully described.
It might be said that without Geoffrey Howe, Hong Kong would not have the independence and trust it receives from China. In fact the Hong Kong we know today is far more democratic than the one the UK ruled over for decades. Geoffrey Howe, with great friends and China experts like Sir Percy Craddock and Lord Wilson, was able to convince the Chinese to develop a meaningful formula known as one country two systems.
Deng Xiaoping’s words but with insight and advice from Lord Howe.
As the years went by the concept grew into a reality and all the doomsayers about Hong Kong were proved wrong. Lord Howe held many positions but he was a true icebreaker with China and negotiator first class.
Today many in China will stop and take a time to remember a man who helped Hong Kong , China and the UK find a successful and peaceful way to return a colony to its sovereign.
The 48 Group salutes a great Icebreaker – Lord Geoffrey Howe