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Once a ‘Barren Island,’ Hong Kong Thrives

December 20, 1986

HONG KONG (AP) _ ″Fragrant Harbor,″ as it is known in Chinese, has long been considered one of Asia’s most attractive places, and hardly resembles its old reputation as a rocky lair for pirates and opium smugglers.

Lord Palmerston, the British foreign secretary who helped secure Hong Kong from China as a base for traders in 1841, called it ″a barren island with hardly a house upon it.″

Since then, Hong Kong has expanded into a cosmopolitan territory covering 236 small islands and a promontory of the southern Chinese mainland, most of it leased by Britain for 99 years under an 1898 treaty.

With practically no taxes and little government regulation, Hong Kong developed into Asia’s largest port, the world’s leading textile exporter and its fourth largest financial center.

The Chinese communists, who historically ignored Hong Kong’s colonial status because of its value as a lucrative trade outlet, finally made public their intentions in 1982 to reclaim sovereignty when the British lease expired. After two years of exhaustive and difficult negotiations, Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to China on June 30, 1997, ending what Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping called a ″question left over from history.″

In return, the Chinese agreed to let a locally chosen administration run the territory and allow Hong Kong to retain its present economic and social systems until at least 2047.

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