Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Hong Kong's Fate Was Settled on June 9, 1898!

An increasingly disruptive “uprising” is underway in Hong Kong. It will fail with increasingly sad results for the people of Hong Kong. The current disruption is by a shrinking, but violent, minority of the population. They temporarily won a victory with the withdrawal of the extradition proposal to China. That was almost two months ago; yet the increasingly violent protests continue. They are doomed to fail; indeed, they never had a chance. Their fate was sealed on June 30, 1897. They just didn’t know it. The British Empire was a mercantile empire based on free trade between the colonies. Much of the trade was sordid, especially the Slave Trade between Africa and the Americas. Just as corrupting was the shipment of opium to China. The Chinese rulers rebelled. The First Opium War ended with the Treaty of Nanking. Hong Kong was ceded to the British as a Crown Colony in perpetuity. The Second Opium War gave the British a perpetual lease on the Kowloon Peninsula. The British were not satisfied. They wanted more – a grant of the New Territories. China refused, granting the British a 100 year, rent-free lease on June 9, 1898. 100 years seemed like an eternity at the time. The New Territories comprise 86.2% of Hong Kong’s land and half its population. The British increasingly incorporated the New Territories into Hong Kong proper and its port. Hong Kong was one unit except for preexisting boundary lines. Hong Kong residents include refugees and their descendants who fled the Communist takeover of China. They are not looking forward to becoming part of China. Cantonese is the prevailing language of Hong Kong, but China mandated Mandarin become the official language. The Honk Kong population still resents that. The British were an occupying force, but they basically left the people alone, including the freedom to get rich. Their Hong Kong was a successful entrepot, along with Singapore. Singapore is independent. Hong Kong was never independent. 1997 was approaching with the New Territories leasehold coming to an end. The odds Beijing would renew it were ZERO. The odds that the United Kingdom had either the will or means to force a renewal were equally ZERO. The UK could in theory hold onto the original grant of the island and Kowloon Peninsula. But that was realistically impossible. Granting independence to that part of Hong Kong was also impossible. Singapore was an island onto itself. Hong Kong was not. England negotiated the best deal possible under the circumstances. China agreed to a one country, two systems policy, recognizing for 50 years the independent economic and political structure of Hong Kong. Hong Kong residents retained the British legal system, due process, freedom of speech, press, religion and the right to protest – none of which are available in China. Hong Kong has its own currency, culture and immigration and visa rules. It does not have true democracy, and will not – demonstrators not-withstanding. About half a million residents and billions in capital fled Hong Kong prior to the turnover. Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia were major beneficiaries of the flight. China has generally honored the agreement for the past 20 years, but has gradually increased its power over Hong Kong. The spark of the riots was a proposed extradition agreement to quickly extradite residents to China. The residents are resentful. They were never going to be independent. Even if the British had obtained a lease in perpetuity over the New Territories, they could not have held onto Hong Kong in perpetuity. Any modus vivendi with China would have given China effective control over Hong Kong. It was increasingly integrated into the Chinese and not British economy. Today’s Hong Kong rioters are accelerating the end of the One Country – Two Systems relationship. The Chinese have proven through millennia their patience. Beijing is showing patience, knowing it can outlast the dissidents. It can be subtle in exerting control, but it too can be pushed over the line. Democracy is not in the cards for Hong Kong.

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