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Transcript: Interview with Margaret Thatcher

June 30, 1997
Web posted at: 6:49 p.m. EDT (2249 GMT)

On Sunday, June 29, CNN's Bernard Shaw talked with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Shaw: Lady Thatcher, from America to India to Jamaica, points in between and, now, Hong Kong. Your thoughts on losing another British colony?

Thatcher: Particularly sad, the circumstances are unique, all the other things that you mentioned we did rule over for a time and brought each to independence, because we were able to do that. What's different, you'll say with Hong Kong? Hong Kong is the subject of three agreements made many years ago. First, 1842, when we acquired the small island of Hong Kong - freehold - that is only about 4 or 5 per cent of the present land, followed by another treaty for the strip of land on Kowloon, the other side of a small bit of sea. Together these only make up 8 per cent of the present day Hong Kong. Then we went back and said that's not enough for our trading purposes; we wanted to keep a big trading base. They wouldn't let us have any more land freehold and they gave us a large piece of land on lease, a 99 year lease and that lease ends the 30th June, 1997. So, there we are. We always knew that was a lease and I now naturally could wish our forebears had negotiated freeholding. So by international law that land reverts to China on the 30th of June. Only, it's not barren land. It is a prosperous, thriving community; it is Chinese talent, British administration, liberty, justice and rising democracy - has been wonderful for Chinese people.

Shaw: Lady Thatcher, in the scenario you just painted, you make it sound as if all of this was with China's consent. The fact of the matter is you fought two wars, you came in and you took Hong Kong.

Thatcher: We did indeed take two wars, yes. We were, in fact, trading. There was, I'm afraid, some trade in drugs. None of us would defend that now. We have learnt a great deal in the 100-150 years and I can only wish that Mainland China had so much. If so we would never have had Tiananmen Square. We would never have had a cultural revolution.

Shaw: How is Prince Charles taking all this?

Thatcher: I imagine with sorrow and dignity, and we are all concerned - of course we are. 'One Country Two Systems' was Deng's idea. The question is will they really let the people of Hong Kong have the full measure of a life of liberty, of a rising democracy.

Shaw: Nearly 13 years ago, when you signed the Joint Declaration with Deng Xiaoping, you spoke of a stroke of genius. You said "One party two systems" was an ingenious idea. Do you still think so?

Thatcher: Yes, it was an ingenious idea. But ideas have to be worked out in detail. And we spent two years negotiating and Geoffrey Howe was in charge of the negotiations - he was quite brilliant - and he did it, and all of the provisions are there. The question is will they be fully honoured. I am afraid one has been broken. They did not like it when we decided here to have what are called the functional constituencies or occupational groups being allowed to decide who should represent them on the Legislative Council. They regarded that rather differently from the way we regarded it, and it has led to them saying that the Legislative Council which is partially elected will end with the handover and be replaced by a nominated council for a year. Obviously, that concerns us deeply.

Shaw: You said you have mixed feelings about this handover. There is this business about the troops rolling into Hong Kong-will it further scramble your feelings?

Thatcher: I think it is not so much the troops as the manner of their coming. We had from time to time, something like 9,000 troops here. Obviously, Hong Kong is a long way from home so we had to have measures to protect Hong Kong. We had 9,000 troops. Now you'll say quite likely that British troops are very different from Chinese troops. But the real trouble is they are going to come in in high publicity with armored personnel carriers. Now that is just totally insensitive. Because it was armored personnel carriers that were present at the terrible events at Tiananmen Square and immediately that raises problems with us. So that is, it is not their having troops here - although troops are usually only to defend the country against outside attack. The internal order is kept by Hong Kong Police. So there are two points. Will the troops be used for things that only the police have the authority to do? And the second is - why armoured personnel carriers? It is not right.

Shaw: The soon-to-be Chief Executive here, Mr. Tung Chee-Hwa says yes to peaceful demonstrations in memory of the Tiananmen Square massacres. He says no to any public demonstrations in support of Tibet or Taiwan. Is this a cause for apprehension?

Thatcher: To us, yes. Of course it is. Because we have a right of peaceful demonstration. You'd usually have to apply to an authority to tell them when and where you want to demonstrate and the numbers. But we would have the right for peaceful demonstration. And I think in the declaration that we agreed, the full freedoms of associations are protected there. He is now saying you can't do anything internal to China, but Taiwan of course is quite different. Taiwan is separated from Mainland China by sea and she has her own independent government, so I would not include Taiwan in that at all. But to us it is very different from our law of peaceful demonstration. Yes, that does concern us.

Shaw: Do you fear Britain's rule of law legacy is threatened?

Thatcher: It is again specifically protected, one of the things that Deng Xiaoping understood. When he said two systems, he did not like the idea of democracy at all, that wasn't in his mind. He was quite clear. He said you can keep your capitalist system and its economic liberty that has produced prosperity and he knew because he had traveled the world, that the communist system only produced poverty. So it had to go to capitalism and he accepted that. And he also knew that there was something rather wonderful in the British rule of law. So he said that you can keep those two things. For 50 years, that is what is in the Declaration - capitalist system with British rule of law, with British independent judges. And I hope, I believe, that will last. It is the greatest bulwark of liberty that we have ever known.

Shaw: Mr. Tung says he is not Beijing's puppet. Do you believe that?

Thatcher: Mr. Tung? Mr. Tung has lived in Hong Kong, he knows Hong Kong, and I think Hong Kong people are very much happier with Mr. Tung obviously than maybe with anyone from mainland China. And I think you'll find that they can go and talk to him, I think he may not be as entirely free as we would wish, but I think he'll have the well-being of Hong Kong people very much in mind and their way of life. And he lives here, he has lived here for a long time, and he is a man who'll wish to do his best for the people among who he lived for so long.

Shaw: You think he is up to the task?

Thatcher: I think he is a very significant person and he will rise to what is required.

Shaw: In monitoring Hong Kong, should China's leadership be held up to an international checklist?

Thatcher: China's leadership will be. The eyes of the world are on Hong Kong. Look at the number of people who are coming for the handover. The eyes of the world are going to watch that China honours her treaties. She may have had one or two breaches at the moment. If China doesn't honor this treaty then there is never any point in making a treaty with China. If you break one, you will break another. So it is significant to China that she is seen in the eyes of the world to keep Hong Kong a prosperous and free country and with a rule of law. And the penalties for not doing it would be that she would drop severely in the eyes of the world, get severe censure and people would not do business with her in the way that they otherwise would because they would lack the confidence. So there is that for saying that China will most probably keep her treaties in very large measure.

Shaw: Was Chris Patten's leadership here too out front, too aggressive for this culture?

Thatcher: No. Just remember when Chris came here, there had been Tiananmen Square in 1989. That shocked the world. It particularly shocked Hong Kong because they knew full well that the end of the lease was coming and something extra special was expected of Chris. He couldn't just carry on as a Governor as if Tiananmen Square had not taken place. So, yes, he did make changes, He did give them extra confidence particularly to make the arrangements for them to decide who should represent the occupational groups. And he was right to do so. And any Western country would have understood that. And here you come up against the most fundamental differences - really only countries you and I know - where the government is elected by the people and its purpose is to serve the needs of the people under a system of liberty and law. And a communist or fascist system when government is rule over people without any rights of the law that we understand, and they can just take you off the streets or they can, in fact - infringing, for saying what you like of the government as we have an opposition to do that. They can, in fact, do what they did to Mr. Wang and Mr. Wei - put them in prison for exercising freedom of speech, put them in prison for 14 years' sentence. And eventually they have now got economic liberty in China, because Deng Xiaoping understood that if you wanted prosperity you have to go to the capitalist system. The history of the world is that personal and political liberty will follow and it will. But it may take longer, a good deal longer.

Shaw: In your judgement, why does China have such paroxysms over the concept of human rights?

Thatcher: Because human rights is part of regarding each and every individual as being important. Human rights really come from the biblical view. In the Old Testament, the 10 Commandments are addressed to each person - each person matters. We have the biblical view of the Old Testament that each person matters and the biblical view of the New Testament of mercy and redemption. And also of true Islam of course, comes to accept the old and new testaments. It is a fundamental foundation belief - sometimes it comes from philosophies, but that is what human rights is: each and every person matters. It doesn't matter to the communist system. Communism is a system. Take all planning to government and do what you can - you order the people about. They are not significant in a communist or fascist system. To us each and every person matters - it is a sanctity at the end of it, and the differences are as basic as that.

Shaw: Is it conceivable the Hong Kong fever will spread across China's triggering social reform regardless of whether the Chinese leadership wanted them?

Thatcher: Yes. That is the hope. It is just like putting one little crystal in a big solution. You know all of the rest of the solution -in chemistry- crystallises onto the one crystal. Hong Kong: Chinese people will come to Hong Kong, they'll see and they'll say why is it different, and what is the difference? It is the same people, the same talents, but here there is a rule of law founded on the belief that each and every person matters in personal lives and they have a British administration. So they will know that if you transfer that to China, the kind of administration, the kind of rule of law, the kind of respect for the individual, they too could be a massive Hong Kong. So Hong Kong will be an example. She, I suppose, really, in a way is the flag ship of what the China people can do.

Shaw: What is the difference between negotiation, say, with the Russians and the Chinese?

Thatcher: Well, right now, Russia proved what we always said would happen, although it came quicker than we thought. We knew the communist system eventually would collapse. You can't ignore human rights eventually, without the system collapsing, particularly in the modern world where they can't keep out information on the Internet about what's happening to other countries. And also, Mr. Gorbachev - he doesn't get enough credit - realised the communist system wasn't working economically, was not producing prosperity, was meant to be the system that produced the greatest prosperity because it was all planned. It doesn't produce prosperity because it offers no stimulus or incentive to people to build up their own prosperity. So it came faster in Russia. China has no history of liberty at all. She has always been under tyranny. She went from being under Chiang Kai Shek and Kuomintang, to come under communism in 1949. It will eventually collapse also.

Shaw: Do you think this system of government here in China...

Thatcher: Communsim will eventually collapse. Indeed, it is starting. Deng Xiaoping realized it couldn't go on. So he said right - economic liberty. You can start up your own business. If you produce more than your target in the factories you can set out to sell it. They are born traders the Chinese. Beijing is so different from what it was in 1977. It has got the economic liberty. It has not yet got a full rule of law, although they are having to supply now and create a law of contract so that you can in fact enforce your own contract. Law is coming too, to China, initiative is coming to China, enterprise is coming to China. It won't stop.

Shaw: Might things have been better had there been better chemistry between you and Deng Xiaoping? During the 1982 talks, referring to you, Mr. Deng said "that woman should be bombarded out of her obstinance."

Thatcher: Well, that is what he'd want to say, wouldn't he? If you had argued with him you are obstinate. He was obstinate - he argued with me. But I didn't complain about that. We survive on argument, that is how come to the right conclusions. Yes, I was obstinate and because of that at any rate we didn't get a good agreement because of dependent detail. Because he knew we produced prosperity and he didn't and he started to change. Why? Of course, I am obstinate in defending our liberties and our law. That is why I carry a big handbag.

Shaw: Following the Falklands War, did hubris from having won that war make you believe that you could persuade the Chinese that Britain should continue administering Hong Kong with an umbrella of Chinese sovereignty?

Thatcher: No, there was no hubris in Falklands, only a fantastic relief that our people were once again free and we were not going to have an aggressor taking over British land and British people. And we don't like aggression anywhere in the world, that is why we believe in strong defense.

Shaw: Well, Sir Percy Craddock, Britain's Ambassador to China said that you had to be persuaded, that you had to be told, that there was no way Britain was going to remain an administrative force of Hong Kong with the Chinese being the mere sovereigns.

Thatcher: Well, that Deng Xiaoping told me. I'll tell you what he told me. I have written it. I said that we have done so well for Hong Kong, for Hong Kong people, that can we not have another lease say for another 50 years? He reacted very quickly. He said no. I said can we not have another lease? I said we have done so well on a territory which I know will eventually return to you. Wouldn't you really let us would be an act of sovereignty to give us a management contract?

Shaw: They were outraged. Is that when Mr. Deng told you that if the Chinese wanted to they could walk right in here and take Hong Kong?

Thatcher: Oh yes he said he could. But I know that I didn't need to be told. That is why I had to ask him. But, he said to me, which really rather shook me: I would rather recover Hong Kong poverty stricken than let the British have another period of administration over Hong Kong. Now, that shows you the communist mind- not concerned about the prosperity, about the well being of the people.

Shaw: You don't trust him, do you?

Thatcher: I don't trust a communist, do you?

Shaw: I can't answer that, I am the reporter asking questions.

Thatcher: It is interesting that you asked it. No Just make an assessment of the person you are negotiating with. What I had to do was - I knew that Hong Kong was valuable to him. I knew that they could do a lot through Hong Kong that they couldn't do otherwise. And so eventually he agreed. And when he said to me: I could take it over - I could take it over this afternoon, I said yes, you could. And it would become poverty stricken, because there would be alarm, people would leave, and the world would know it was the dead hand of communism that ruined it. So, he said, what did you have on that piece of paper, Mrs. Thatcher? And I had written out a possible communique which said that we had decided to negotiate about the future of Hong Kong. Perhaps not that we'd negotiate that we'd have a series of meetings about the matters that would come up. This is 15 years, because we could not get any loans from banks for properties -anyone - in less than 15 years, so we had to negotiate. And we did the communique which I had drafted and the negotiations started and it took two years.

Shaw: At these historic ceremonies, will you be fighting back tears?

Thatcher: I hope the tears won't flow. My mind and heart will just be very full for the people of Hong Kong. And just tremendous hope that all will be well, and a determination that, along with other democratic countries in the world, we observe very carefully what is going on in Hong Kong. And we don't hesitate to speak out for the people of Hong Kong and do what we can to see that that international agreement I made with Deng Xiaoping, registered in the United Nations, is fully observed and upheld.

Hong Kong Special Section

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