Friday, June 26, 2015

Hong Kong could have remained British

Readers interested in Asian history will know that in 1841 China ceded the island of Hong Kong to the British in perpetuity, through the Treaty of Nanking after the First Opium War.

In 1898 the New Territories, the essential "hinterland" of the colony, were leased to Britain for 99 years and of course handed back to China in 1997, together with Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

Fewer people are aware that Britain had an opportunity to buy the New Territories from China in 1938. During the Sino-Japanese War, Hong Kong became China's most significant lifeline, with tonnes of military supplies passing through its port. With reverses on the battlefield, the Chinese government proposed the sale of the New Territories to Britain for 20 million pounds to help finance its war effort against Japan. Hong Kong Governor Sir Geoffry Northcote was keen on the idea, but the Colonial Office in London decided against it due to complex considerations involving the Chinese communists, the Japanese, Russia and Germany. The plan finally died in March 1939, when a loan of 10 million pounds was extended to the Chinese government instead.

One wonders how things would stand today if Britain had in fact made that purchase.

John L Sheppard


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