UK officials mulled a plan for moving Hong Kongers to Northern Ireland after the handover to China in 1997, a report says. Although seemingly a joke, the plan reflected Britain's uncertainty about the future of the city.
The plan to relocate the 5.5 million population of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland was considered by government officials after it was put forward by a sociology lecturer in the early eighties, according to formerly classified government files.
The information was revealed on Friday when Britain's National Archives released a 1983 file entitled "Replantation of Northern Ireland from Hong Kong," which documented discussions by British officials about the plan to settle Hong Kongers in a newly built "city state" in Magilligan, between Coleraine and Londonderry.
The lecturer who made the proposal - apparently in jest, according to the "New York Times" - claimed that the move would revitalize the local economy and save Hong Kong, which he said would have "no future on its present site" after it was returned to China.
In an e-mail to the NYT, the lecturer, Christie Davies, said the idea, which appeared in an article of his in "The Belfast News Letter," was meant humorously.
"At the time, the piece was well received in Hong Kong, but it was recognized as humorous,” he told the newspaper. “The Irish do not understand satire and have no sense of humor so I guess some of them took it seriously.”
According to the file released on Friday, Northern Ireland civil servant George Fergusson began discussions with the Foreign Office about the plan, writing to a colleague that there could be "real advantages in taking the proposals seriously."
After seeing the proposal, one official at the Foreign Office wrote: "My mind will be boggling for the rest of the day."
Although it is unclear whether it reached the ministerial level, the proposed plan reflects Britain's anxieties about the future of Hong Kong during planning for its handover to China under the terms of a lease agreement made in 1898.
Then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed a joint declaration with China in 1984 that paved the way for the former British colony to return to China in 1997.
Many people in Hong Kong are concerned at what they see as a gradual erosion of autonomous rights after the handover. Last year, tens of thousands of student-led protesters blocked streets in key districts of the city for 79 days, calling for free leadership elections.
tj/kms (AP, dpa)