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When a small island near the Pearl River estuary was added to the British Crown’s possessions in 1842, Lord Palmerston, in one of history’s more spectacular misjudgements, dismissed it as “a barren island which will never be a mart of trade.” Today that barren island, with its rented hinterland and a population smaller than London’s, ranks among the top ten world economies. It is the very paradigm of a mart of trade; but its future is still in doubt, for at midnight on 30th June 1997 the Union Jack will drop from its flagstaff, to be replaced by China’s starred…

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