Thirteen years ago, Britain and China reached an agreement on the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule. One hundred fifty five years of colonial rule comes to an end on July 1, 1997. At the time of the 1984 agreement, 1997 seemed a long way off. Rarely if ever have two countries agreed on such a major change thirteen years in advance; rarely have a people been given such ample time to plan for a transfer in their rule.
Yet, as the time of the transfer approaches, much remains uncertain and unplanned. What does the transfer involve? Will Hong Kong in fact enjoy the political and economic autonomy it has been promised? What will be required for it to maintain a political system different from that of the mainland? And what are the American interests at stake? This essay explores these questions.