Roberti, a former Hong Kong correspondent for AsiaWeek, has followed the convoluted negotiations between China and Britain over the last few years and has produced a formidable narrative of high diplomatic deception and expediency. Britain took Hong Kong from China on a 99-year lease due to expire in 1997. But China has always tolerated this high-powered capitalist outpost not so much because of the technicalities of a lease as for the huge quantities of hard currency she derived from it. Roberti, like many, seems to think that the British had a shot at keeping Hong Kong out of China's clutches. But Britain wanted good relations with the Communist giant and was not prepared to sour them over Hong Kong. He also points the finger of accusation at Hong Kong's own commercial elite, who, he claims, wanted a no- fuss complicity with Beijing at the price of suppressing democracy: ``an unholy alliance of capitalists and communists.'' A colony lawyer named Martin Lee, however, had misgivings, aroused by the treaty signed by Margaret Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang in 1984. ``One country, two systems,'' the promise of a democratic Hong Kong allied with mainland China, seemed unlikely. Giving a voice to Hong Kong's ordinary people, Lee organized vociferous protest against the British sell-out. In the process, he became ``more recognizable than the governor and more popular than many pop stars.'' But the pro-democracy movement has made no difference to the eventual outcome. And here there are unpleasant truths that Roberti seems reluctant to face. Were the British really ``forcing'' Hong Kong to live under a dictatorship? The reality, surely, was that the territory's residents no longer had the power to back their wishes up. The notion of a conspiracy, though, always makes for a better read, and Roberti is certainly deft in showing us one. A shame only that he could not come up with a better villain than poor old knock-kneed Britain.
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