Last week marked the 20th anniversary of what then was the British colony of Hong Kong (originally and rightfully Chinese territory but stolen through invasion by the British during the shameful British Opium Wars of the 19th century) was handed back to its true country of China. Some of the commentary in the British press and one or two relics crawling out of the woodwork (here I am thinking primarily of the disastrous final UK Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten) was disappointing and must be countered with a different perspective and difference of opinion. Firstly the proper context for discussing Hong Kong has to be its place in history and how it came strangely into British hands despite Britain being thousands of miles away on the other side of the planet. As a British citizen I make no bones about the fact that the British Empire was and still is one of the most shameful, disturbing and outrageous periods in British history. It is very uncomfortable to have to face up to the historical facts of ones country. As Dr. Henry Kissinger once remarked «time is not neutral». The past is still very much with us, some are simply are aware it and attuned to it more than others, and the past very much shapes and informs the present while also influencing the future.
As an Imperial Power how Britain behaved abroad invading other peoples territory and stealing their countries through military might for economic and geopolitical gain is disgusting. It is not only the act of aggression and theft motivated by profit and political power which is abhorrent but also the practice of erecting colonial administrations run by the British imperial elites and imposing either directly by violence or indirectly through the classic English tactic of divide and rule the British «system» and the British «way of life» which is also deeply egregious. The British Empire committed terrible atrocities and crimes against humanity in places as diverse and far flung as Ireland, India/Pakistan, Palestine, great swathes of the continent of Africa as well as other Middle Eastern countries and in Asia.
When the going got too tough for the British with the «locals», or the motherland of Britain was too exhausted to keep up the whole pathetic and immoral imperial enterprise or when the countries conquered and occupied where simply no longer of any strategic value or had been drained for nearly all they (thought at the time) were worth, the British cut and run engaging in one shambolic, ill thought out, ill prepared Brexit after Brexit. The Great British Exit in India! The Great British Exit in Pakistan! The Great British Exit in Ireland! The Great British Exit in Kenya! The Great British Exit in Zimbabwe! I could go on. That list of past Brexits is not exhaustive but one theme emerges from nearly all of Britain's Exits from its «colonies» over and over again, that is what a mess the British Government and State make of matters, particularly in other people's countries, which were never theirs to begin with.
So we come to the case of Hong Kong and how the British treated China in general during their Imperial incursions into Chinese territory. Reviewing the behaviour of the British in China during the Imperial Period and assessing how the British behaved in someone else's country and the practices they engaged in is deeply shocking, disappointing, appalling and disturbing. As a British citizen it is also a very humbling, difficult but painfully necessary learning experience to investigate, read, research and think deeply about the legacy of what it means in 2017 for the countries of the world subjugated and treated so poorly by the British in their very own homes. It is also informative and revealing regarding the themes, narratives and emotions that have been generated regarding British history, culture and its place in the world during the debates over British membership of the European Union.
With regards to Hong Kong we must be very clear with the historical facts. The British stole Hong Kong from the Chinese. Hong Kong had been part of China and Chinese for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Hong Kong was situated closely off the coast of mainland China in East Asia thousands upon thousands of miles away from Britain. Before the British penetrated Asia and China on imperial commercial expeditions there had been next to no contact between the British Empire and the Middle Kingdom. That all changed when the British forced themselves upon the Chinese in China aggressively attacking the Chinese within Chinese sovereign territory. The British started wars within China to get their own way and to persecute the Chinese in their very own country and their very own home. I wonder how the British would feel today if this had happened to their ancestors in Britain of the 19th century. When the British could not get what they wanted through coercive diplomacy and outright military force and land occupations they turned to attempting to make the populace slaves to drugs by selling opium. The Chinese rightly were outraged and disgusted beyond belief that a foreign power would do all this to them in their own country after nothing had been done untoward the foreign British imperial invaders apart from being politely refused the various British offers.
The Chinese had had enough of being treated so badly by the British in their very own country that they started to fight back to stop the British led sale of drugs. This resulted in the Opium Wars and the British humiliating the Chinese by taking Hong Kong off them as a formal colony of the British Empire to be run by a British Governor in Hong Kong with a British administration of judges, lawyers, civil servants et al mixed in for good measure progressively with local Hong Kong Chinese and the Foreign Office and Colonial Office from London. British citizens shipped in from the British Empire where given special legal protections and privileges under a civil code linked into domestic British law back in the UK. No such rights and protections where extended in the beginning to the local Chinese population. However the «lease» on Hong Kong was due for renewal come 1997 and with the ascension of the PRC to the United Nations Security Council in the early 1970s the status of Hong Kong as a recognised colony of Britain was in serious question and rightly so. Under the wise leadership and thinking of Asia experts and China expert diplomats in the British Foreign Office such as the eminently distinguished Sir Percey Craddock it was realistically concluded that it was best in British and international interests to begin a negotiating process for the handover of Hong Kong back to China. Under the enlightened and remarkable leadership of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, Chinese Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping and Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai supported by some of the finest British and Chinese diplomats an agreement was reached called the Joint Anglo-Sino Framework from 1984 which allowed for Hong Hong to return to China under the policy of «one country two systems» which allowed Hong Kong to retain a large extent of economic freedom and social autonomy from the central Government in Beijing while being reunified with her original country and run by a Chief Executive in much the same way the British did with a Governor rather redolent of the situation today between Scotland and London.
Despite what some anti-China critics have been saying recently, the 1984 agreement, worked - the handover (despite the amateur attempts of the incompetence, ignorance and vanity of Tory Party politician cum final Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten) went smoothly and Hong Kong as part once again of China has prospered and thrived over the last twenty years. It is a paradise of modern prosperity, low crime, luxury living. It is still one of the most important financial jewels in the global banking crown and the people who live there enjoy an extremely high standard of living and quality of life. Far higher than any major British city even London. In short, life in Hong Kong across all walks of life and sections of society is pretty good. Much better on nearly every economic, social, health, educational, emotional indicator than London or New York. The only bone of contention that useful idiots of some anti-China forces in the UK and US can raise is that Hong Kong still is not a Westminster style or Washington DC style «electoral democracy» where the people get to choose their highest official such as Donald Trump in America or Theresa May in Britain in «a free and fair election» like the 2016 US Election or the 2015 & 2017 UK General Elections. There is already strong elements of direct people participation democracy in Hong Kong and there are elections for its Chief Executive and other officials throughout the Hong Kong administration based on a model of democracy. The 1984 principle of «One Country Two Systems» and the Hong Kong democratic system of limited elections and extensive consultation has worked, is working and will continue to work perfectly fine in Hong Kong with no need to replicate precisely line by line the British democratic system or American democratic system.
With the experiences of the American electoral political system regarding Trump and the British electoral political system regarding Brexit I think it would be very unwise and foolish to seek to replicate at a time precisely a democratic electoral system such as the British and American system which is experiencing a severe period of deep malfunction. Furthermore, a lot of the so-called young «Umbrella» movement pro-democracy campaigners are being merely manipulated and used as pawns in a much larger geopolitical campaign against the return to superpower status this century of the tremendous People's Republic of China. This campaign of terribly insecure, jealous, angry Sinophobes is fueled primarily by a complete envy combined with ignorance, arrogance and loathing of the brilliance, endurance and strength of the Chinese way of life and civilization which is returning China to such an immensely powerful planetary position once again. In all likelihood the Chinese model across all levels whether it be political, social, economic, cultural is usurping or catching up fast with the long established, once solely dominant American-Western model which some in the United States and Britain simply cannot tolerate because it irritates them so much to think how far ahead China is powering based on its political system, economy and society/culture. This campaign is led by extreme right wing anti-China warmongers in the United States, Britain and Japan such as Alan Mendozza, Brendan Simms, the Henry Jackson Society, Theresa May's former Chief of Staff Nick Timothy etc. The list of anti-China opponents in the West is long.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping, one of the greatest Leaders on the planet today, has quite rightly exposed the real agenda of the so-called «Umbrella» pro-Western democracy movement, that is pawns of larger anti-China forces trying to whip up unrest in Hong Kong to undermine the PRC. This cannot be tolerated. Hong Kong is doing brilliantly as a rightful part of China back reunited with its proper country. Under the 1984 Agreement which the Chinese Government has meticulously upheld, implemented and respected and the fabulous leadership of the Beijing Government Hong Kong has prospered far more than say London, Birmingham, Manchester, Hull, Leeds, Glasgow, in the last 20 years (in fact in the last 70 odd years) and will continue to prosper in the 21st century. Hong Kongers enjoy high levels of prosperity, affluence, freedom, civil, legal and democratic rights and would be extremely foolish and unwise to believe the lies and smears of the anti-China campaign being waged regarding Hong Kong.