Hong Kong’s “Unofficials” Begged Britain to Bargain Better with Beijing’s Communists

(p. C4) In the 1980s and 1990s, the political scientist Steve Tsang conducted dozens of interviews with industrialists, bankers and lawyers appointed as unofficial members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or Executive Council. Known as the “Unofficials,” they were advisers to the British government. The British Official Secrets Act prevented them from speaking about the negotiations during their lifetimes, but the interviews restore a vital, often anguished Hong Kong voice to the historical record.

. . .

The Joint Declaration provided for Hong Kong to be handed back to China in 1997 with its capitalist system intact and a Chinese pledge that its way of life should continue for 50 years. Hong Kong was to hold elections for its Legislative Council and chief executive, but there was no clear timeline for democracy or mechanism to ensure Chinese compliance. “If we cannot devise the right political system, then Hong Kong may not survive,” Chung warned, telling the British that “the Chinese concept of an agreement was worthless.”

Thatcher’s response to them, in January 1984, was frosty: “The Chinese could walk into Hong Kong at present but had not done so. We had to negotiate with the cards that we possessed.” . . .

In June, Chung traveled to Beijing with two other Unofficials to express their concerns directly to Deng Xiaoping: that in the future Hong Kong might be governed from Beijing instead of being administered by Hong Kongers; that Chinese officials might not accept Hong Kong’s lifestyle; and that China’s future leaders might follow “extreme left policies.”

. . .

Would it have made any difference if more attention had been paid to the Unofficials? In 2019, as protests roiled the city, I put this question to Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten. “I think it might have done, actually,” he said. He recalled that British policy in the 1980s “was driven by officials with only the most vestigial, shadowy input from ministers. The Cradocks and others, they didn’t listen to people in Hong Kong. They knew what Hong Kong required, and what Hong Kong, they thought, required was whatever would be acceptable with China for a quiet life.”

The dominant narrative in the British press in the run-up to the handover in 1997 was one of an honorable retreat. The Unofficials tell a different story: One of political expediency that set in motion the foreseeable—and foreseen—unraveling of one of the world’s greatest cities.

For the full essay, see:

Louisa Lim. “The Unofficial Story of the Handover of Hong Kong.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 23, 2022): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date April 22, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay is adapted from Lim’s book:

Lim, Louisa. Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong. New York: Riverhead Books, 2022.

During Pandemic, Delayed Medical Procedures Rose from 4.6 to 6 Million in England’s Socialized Healthcare System

(p. A8) LONDON — Lara Wahab had been waiting for more than two years for a kidney and pancreas transplant, but months had passed without any word. So last month she called the hospital, and got crushing news.

There had been a good match for her in October [2021], the transplant coordinator told her, which the hospital normally would have accepted. But with Covid-19 patients filling beds, the transplant team could not find her a place in the intensive care unit for postoperative care. They had to decline the organs.

“I was just in shock. I knew that the N.H.S. was under a lot of strain, but you don’t really know until you’re waiting for something like that,” she said, referring to the National Health Service. “It was there, but it sort of slipped through my fingers,” she added of the transplant opportunity.

Ms. Wahab, 34, from North London, is part of an enormous and growing backlog of patients in Britain’s free health service who have seen planned care delayed or diverted, in part because of the pandemic — a largely unseen crisis within a crisis. The problems are likely to have profound consequences that will be felt for years.

The numbers are stark: In England, nearly 6 million procedures are currently delayed, a rise from the backlog of 4.6 million before the pandemic, according to the N.H.S. The current delays most likely impact more than five million people — a single patient can have multiple cases pending for different ailments — which represents almost one-tenth of the population. Hundreds of thousands more haven’t been referred yet for treatment, and many ailments have simply gone undiagnosed.

For the full story, see:

Megan Specia. “In Britain, an Ever-Growing Backlog of Non-Covid Care.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 27, 2022): A8.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated January 27, 2022, and has the title “‘I Feel Really Hopeless’: In U.K., Millions See Non-Covid Health Care Delayed.”)

Amazon Warehouse Jobs Give “Economic Boost” to English Town

(p. B4) DARLINGTON, England—Many retailers in this old market town have long held Amazon.com Inc. partially to blame for the closures of a raft of local shops in recent years.

Then, Amazon opened a warehouse here.

The facility, which opened in early 2020, employs 1,300 full-time staff, making it one of the town’s biggest employers. It hired 500 additional seasonal workers during the end-of-year holidays. Wages start at £10 (equivalent to $13.25) an hour, above the legal minimum, and benefits include private healthcare and an £8,000 education allowance available in installments over four years.

The new jobs have all delivered an economic boost for the Northern England town of 100,000, while sparking a reassessment of the U.S. e-commerce giant. Nicola Reading, a gift-shop owner, still blames Amazon for the demise of the local retail scene but now sees an upside, too.

“It feels like Amazon employs half the population of Darlington now,” she said.

Already America’s second-biggest employer, after Walmart Inc., Amazon has been advancing in Europe and the U.K., investing €78 billion ($89 billion) since 2010 in a continentwide expansion that has significantly accelerated over the past few years. Amazon employs over 55,000 full-time U.K. staff.

. . .

Local officials in Darlington have applauded Amazon’s arrival, which they say has benefited the town, chiefly by creating jobs. Amazon’s presence is also encouraging young university graduates to stay in the town and attracting other companies, said Mark Ladyman, the Darlington Borough Council’s assistant director for economic growth.

For the full story, see:

Trefor Moss. “The Small Town That Amazon Upended, Then Saved.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 22, 2022): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 21, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Two Self-Made Mill Owners” in Golden Age of Capitalism Collected and Preserved “Literary Treasures”

(p. C6) A consortium of British libraries and museums has announced that it successfully raised more than $20 million to buy a “lost” library containing rare manuscripts by Robert Burns, Walter Scott and the Brontës, heading off an auction and preserving the collection intact.

. . .

“A collection of literary treasures of this importance comes around only once in a generation,” Richard Ovenden, the head of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, said in a news release earlier this month announcing the deal.

. . .

Alfred and William Law, two self-made mill owners who grew up less than 20 miles from the Brontë home in Haworth (which is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum), began collecting what became the Honresfield Library in the 1890s.

. . .

In the announcement, Gabriel Heaton, the Sotheby’s specialist who organized the planned sale, called it “a collection like no other that has come to market in recent decades.”

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Schuessler. “$20 Million Raised to Preserve a ‘Lost Library’.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 25, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 24, 2021, and has the title “Group Raises $20 Million to Preserve ‘Lost’ Brontë Library.”)

Entrepreneur Wedgewood “Was Encouraged to Question Authority”

(p. C6) During this pandemic, the upper-middle class went bonkers over pots. They clanged them nightly on the street in homage to health care workers, and as soon as they were loosed from quarantine they marched into studios like eager kindergartners to create their own ceramics. Perhaps these hobbyists whose uneven, sometimes Seussian efforts fill Instagram “shelfies” — Seth Rogen, I’m talking to you — could find #inspo in a new biography of the 18th-century potter Josiah Wedgwood. It encourages the rest of us to look at our crockery more critically.

. . .

And production of the veddy English Wedgwood, which used to occur in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is now largely outsourced to Asia, the very continent it was founded to compete with.

. . .

Josiah was born the youngest of a dozen children into a primitive, churchy iteration of the business. He walked seven miles round-trip to school by the age of 6 — take that, TikTok tots — and was encouraged to question authority. The loss of one leg (weakened by smallpox, further damaged in a road accident and finally amputated and replaced with a wooden prosthetic) helped form his character, like Captain Ahab’s. Unable to labor at the wheel, Wedgwood would gravitate instead to design and labor reform: “a hands-on manager,” writes Hunt, who compares him to Steve Jobs, “overseeing his potbanks with a steely professionalism.”

. . .

More seriously, Hunt offers convincing evidence that Wedgwood, . . . , was a committed if somewhat armchair abolitionist, alert to the horrors of the triangular trade that undergirded his commerce, especially the sugar that was also known as “white gold.” His widely circulated and copied cameo featuring a kneeling slave with the motto “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” though regrettably generic, “deserves to be remembered as one of the most radical symbols in modern history,” Hunt argues. (Incorporated into snuffbox lids, bracelets and hair pins, it could also be seen as an early example of virtue signaling.)

On top of everything, Wedgwood was a devoted family man: “uxorious” to and solicitous of his wife and third cousin, Sarah, he helped to home-school their brood even though there wasn’t a pandemic at the time. (. . . ) Alas, he didn’t live to see the birth of his grandson: Charles Darwin.

For the full review, see:

Alexandra Jacobs. “A Master of Making Fine China, and a Firebrand Too.” The New York Times (Monday, October 25, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses, added; italics, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 24, 2021, and has the title “A Transporting and Cozy Biography of a Pottery Pioneer.”)

The book under review is:

Hunt, Tristram. The Radical Potter: The Life and Times of Josiah Wedgwood. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021.

$80 Billion in 200 Large Projects to Develop Hydrogen as Clean Energy Source

(p. B1) SHEFFIELD, England — Rachel Smith has lived through green hydrogen’s bumpy journey from scientists’ dream to an industry that may be on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. An engineer, she started out two decades ago working in a converted barn on early devices for making the clean-burning gas.

Now she is part of a team racing to build giant machines that will use electricity to separate hydrogen from water for major companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Orsted, the Danish offshore wind developer.

“We have gone through those toddler years,” said Ms. Smith, an executive director at ITM Power, which is run out of an expansive new factory in Sheffield, a faded center for steel mills and coal mining. “We are playing in the grown-up world rather than in research labs.”

A consensus is forming among governments, environmentalists and energy companies that deep cuts in carbon emissions will require large amounts of a clean fuel like hydrogen.

Proponents of hydrogen have identified more than a score of potential applications of the element for cutting carbon emissions. It could be used to power long-haul trucks and train and air travel. Energy companies are experimenting with blending hydrogen with natural gas for home heating and cooking.

All told, more than 200 large-scale projects are underway to produce or transport hydrogen, comprising investments of more than $80 billion. Daimler and Volvo, the world’s largest truck makers, plan in a few years to begin mass producing long-haul electric trucks that run on devices called fuel cells that convert hydrogen to electricity. Water will be the trucks’ only emission.

“You could imagine an economy that is supported almost entirely by very clean electricity and very clean hydrogen,” said Ernest Moniz, secretary of energy in the Obama administration and now chief executive of the Energy Futures Initiative, a research organization.

(p. B5) But he warned that “a lot of things have to happen” for a gas now mainly used in specialty areas to become a “part of the backbone of the energy system.”

Among the obstacles that must be overcome: creating enough of the right sort of hydrogen, at a price industries and consumers can accept.

For the full story, see:

Stanley Reed and Jack Ewing. “The Race to Harvest Hydrogen.” The New York Times (Saturday, July 17, 2021): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2021, and has the title “Hydrogen Is One Answer to Climate Change. Getting It Is the Hard Part.”)

James Dyson Persevered Through 5,127 Prototypes to Achieve Vacuum Cleaner Success

(p. C7) James Dyson was a less than stellar student at the boarding school he attended in Norfolk, England, where his father was a classics master. Yet he would become the founder of a family-owned global manufacturing empire. Mr. Dyson gained fame—and a peerage—as the inventor of a revolutionary vacuum cleaner that exploits the principle of the cyclone and never needs a replacement bag, among other novel domestic appliances.

. . .

It took Mr. Dyson four years and precisely 5,127 prototypes—as he reminds us in the first paragraph of this book’s introduction and in the last paragraph of its last chapter, as well as several times in between. He points out that his perseverance—abetted by subsequent and continuing failures in the form of rebuffs from the likes of banks, venture capitalists, government agencies, manufacturers, distributors and retailers—was rewarded with ultimate success. The idea of “accepting and even enjoying failure, but going on” is another theme carried throughout Mr. Dyson’s book.

. . .

With success achieved in the United Kingdom, Mr. Dyson looked to sell the fruits of his intellectual property beyond the sceptered shores. In America, he got legally tangled up with Amway, which he was convinced was infringing on his patents. The lessons learned from his failure to protect his patent rights for the Ballbarrow, however, steeled Mr. Dyson and his wife and business partner, Deirdre, against allowing this to happen a second time. Mr. Dyson sued Amway and, after five years of costly litigation, received a favorable settlement. The victory boosted the businessman’s growing reputation as a fighter and a winner.

. . .

. . . , Mr. Dyson tells a story of the struggles of entrepreneurship, and his arduous quests for private capital; suitable manufacturing facilities; building permits; talented and trained employees; and at least moral support from the British government. He reveals the many and continuing obstacles—financial, political, regulatory, sociological, cultural—that frustrated his attempts to expand his manufacturing enterprises within the United Kingdom. This challenge, he explains, eventually drove him to move the bulk of his business to Singapore, where Mr. Dyson’s company is now headquartered.

For the full review, see:

Henry Petroski. “The Inventor’s Dilemma.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Sept. 3, 2021, and has the title “‘Invention’ Review: James Dyson’s Dilemma.”)

The book under review is:

Dyson, James. Invention: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

Global Warming Makes This “An Exciting Time if You’re a Wine Lover”

(p. B6) . . . rising temperatures have had . . . unforeseen effects. Parts of the United Kingdom, a country not at all known for wine production, are now making sparkling wine — as they did back in Roman times.

For wine connoisseurs, that means changes in the types of wines they’ve long loved and where those wines are produced. The average consumer may not notice but the seemingly stable world of wine has become anything but.

“We’re seeing a broader selection of very interesting wines because of this warming,” said Dave Parker, founder and chief executive of the Benchmark Wine Group, a large retailer of vintage wines. “We’re seeing regions that historically were not that highly thought of now producing some excellent wines. The U.K., Oregon, New Zealand or Austria may have been marginal before but they’re producing great wines now. It’s kind of an exciting time if you’re a wine lover.”

The rising temperatures have certainly hurt some winemakers, but in some wine-growing areas the heat has been a boon for vineyards and the drinkers who covet their wine. Mr. Parker said growing conditions for sought-after vintages in Bordeaux used to come less frequently and sometimes only once every decade: 1945, 1947, 1961, 1982, 1996 and 2000. They were all very ripe vintages, because of the heat. But in the last decade, with temperatures rising in Bordeaux, wines from 2012, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 are all sought after — and highly priced.

And then, there are the wines from previously overlooked regions.

“What I’d say is, currently, there hasn’t been a better time for wine collectors,” said Axel Heinz, the estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto, two of Italy’s premier wines. “The vintages and wine have become so much better. And for us, the changes over the past 20 years have put a focus on many growing regions that collectors weren’t interested in before, like Italian and Spanish wine.”

For the full story, see:

Paul Sullivan. “Climate Change’s Impact by the Bottle.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 4, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 3, 2021, and has the title “Change May Be Coming to Your Favorite Wines.”)

34,300 Hong Kongers Apply for British Visa to Leave “A City That Is Lacking Freedom”

(p. B1) LONDON — Lin Kwong had a good life in Hong Kong. She taught sports management part time at a college and chaired an amateur drama club. Her young son, Chee Yin, was doted on by his grandparents. She had friends and favorite restaurants. But in February, she made the difficult decision to leave it all behind.

“Nothing is as difficult as staying in a city that is lacking freedom,” she said.

In the year since China imposed a sweeping national security law on its territory of Hong Kong, a former British colony, tens of thousands of people have made plans to leave the city. And like Ms. Kwong, many are headed for Britain, where holders of British National Overseas (B.N.O.) pass-(p. B3)ports have been given a pathway to work and citizenship. In the first quarter of the year, 34,300 people applied for the special visa, according to Britain’s immigration department.

. . .

Ms. Kwong often posts on social media, wanting to show the benefits of life in Britain. At a memorial in London last month on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, she posted a photo of a lit candle. In Hong Kong, the long-running annual vigil had been banned.

At a protest in London on June 12, hundreds of Hong Kongers marched through the city center chanting “Fight for freedom!” and “Stand with Hong Kong!” Organizers wore masks with a Union Jack pattern, and sang “God Save the Queen.”

For the full story, see:

Isabella Kwai and Alexandra Stevenson. “Departing Hong Kong For New Life.” The New York Times, First Section (Monday, July 12, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 31, 2021, and has the title “Hong Kong Migrants Seek Fresh Start in U.K. After Crackdown.”)

British Entrepreneur Shattered French Wine Pretension

(p. A23) The world was paying little attention on May 24, 1976, when a small wine tasting was held in Paris at the Intercontinental Hotel. But the echoes of that tasting, later called the Judgment of Paris, have resounded for decades.

The instigator, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who owned a wine shop and wine school in Paris, had set up a blind tasting of 20 wines — 10 white and 10 red — for nine French judges, including some of the top names in the French wine and food establishment.

. . .

It was hardly thought to be a fair fight. As has been recounted countless times, the judges were thoroughly convinced that California wines were inferior.

“Ah, back to France,” one judge sighed after tasting a Napa Valley chardonnay. Another, sniffing a Bâtard-Montrachet, declared: “This is definitely California. It has no nose.”

When all was done, a shocking consensus revealed the favorite wines to be a 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Cellars, both in Napa Valley.

The Americans celebrated, the French shrank in consternation, and everlasting fame awaited Mr. Spurrier, who went on to a long career as a wine entrepreneur.

. . .

The Paris tasting might have swiftly been forgotten had not a single reporter, George M. Taber of Time magazine, been on hand to witness the events. His article, “Judgment of Paris,” gave the California wine industry a much-needed boost, lending its vintners international credibility at a time when they were searching for critical approval and public acceptance.

. . .

Mr. Taber, the reporter, in 2005 published a book, “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.” A 2008 film, “Bottle Shock,” with Alan Rickman playing Mr. Spurrier, depicted the tasting as the climax of a triumph-of-the-underdog story.

. . .

As for Mr. Spurrier, he leveraged the tasting into different careers in wine, with both triumphs and failures.

. . .

In 1987, the Spurriers bought a farm in Dorset near the south coast of England, and he decided that the chalk soil, similar to what can be found in Champagne and Chablis, was a perfect place for vines.

They did not start planting until 2009, by which time a burgeoning sparkling wine industry had taken root in southern England. Their sparkling wine, Bride Valley, had its first release in 2014.

For the full obituary, see:

Eric Asimov. “Steven Spurrier, 79, a Merchant Who Upended the Wine World With a Taste Test.” The New York Times (Thursday, March 18, 2021): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated March 18, 2021, and has the title “Steven Spurrier, Who Upended Wine World With a Tasting, Dies at 79.”)

The Tabar book mentioned above is:

Taber, George M. Judgment of Paris: California Vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner, 2005.