Newly declassified documents have revealed that government officials discussed the idea of moving the population of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland.
The idea, sparked by Prof Christie Davies, an expert in the sociology of morality, censorship and humour at the University of Reading, who proposed the idea after saying the former British colony had ‘no political future’ after Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. He claimed that the move could have helped the Northern Irish economy.
The details of the proposal showed a plan to move people in a newly built “city state” between Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry.
At the time of the proposals the British Government were in discussion with the Beijing Government about the future of Hong Kong after the 99 year lease ending in 1997.
While some officials noted that the proposal should be taken seriously, others were not convinced.
When details of his idea first appeared in October 1983, they caught the eye of George Fergusson, a junior official in the Northern Ireland Office.
He sent a memo to David Snoxell, a colleague in the Foreign Office based in the Republic of Ireland, saying: “At this stage we see real advantages in taking the proposal seriously.”
Mr Snoxell’s replied “My initial reaction… is that the proposal could be useful to the extent that the arrival of 5.5 million Chinese in Northern Ireland may induce the indigenous peoples to forsake their homeland for a future elsewhere,”
“We should not underestimate the danger of this taking the form of a mass exodus of boat refugees in the direction of South East Asia.”
Another official stated “My mind will be boggling for the rest of the day.”
But Mr Snoxell, now retired, told the BBC that the exchange “was a spoof between colleagues who had a sense of humour”.
“You can see it wasn’t intended seriously,” he said.
“Sadly, it’s impossible to make jokes like this any more, the Diplomatic Service has lost its sense of humour.
“I think that’s a shame because it’s through humour that you build relationships, with other departments, with other diplomats at home and abroad.”
By Fiona Carty