After several months of negotiations, it is now official: Beijing has agreed that its top official in Hong Kong can shake hands with the exiting British governor, Christopher Patten, at the ceremony on July 1, 1997, marking the colony's return to China.
Britain's Minister in charge of Hong Kong Affairs Jeremy Hanley, announced the decision in Beijing. "I have confirmed from [Beijing's de facto ambassador] Lu Ping that he is looking forward to shaking the hand of the governor at the ceremony," he intoned.
The negotiations over how to mark the historic end of 156 years of British rule in this colony had been hung up over China's deep antipathy toward the governor. In March, Britain had signaled that a joint ceremony was in doubt because the Chinese were insisting that Mr. Patten not have a role.
Since he arrived four years ago, Patten has never visited Beijing or met with any Chinese official higher ranking than Mr. Lu.
But now the two sides seem to have set aside their past differences enough to ensure that the handover ceremony will be, as both have stated that they want it to be, "grand, solemn, dignified, and fitting to the historical importance of the event."