Stand with Hong Kong

Supporters of Hong Kong and the protests there march from Trafalgar Square towards Downing St.

History is catching up on Hong Kong and Britain. Back in the 17th century the British East India Company had begun cultivating large quanties of opium in Bengal which was then imported into China in order to pay for the luxury Chinese goods much desired in Europe. This led to a huge increase in opium addiction in China, and in 1839 the Emperor decided the trade had to stop.

Chinese students and others in Trafalgar Square oppose the pro-Hong Kong march

The trade went through the port of Canton, and the Emperor’s man there tried to persuade the foreign merchants to hand over their opium in exchange for tea, and when they refused, seized around 1200 tons of the drug and publicly destroyed it. We sent in the Navy to fight this ‘First Opium War’, and Chinese war junks were no match for our gunboats. In 1842 China was defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking, opening up China to free trade and ceding Hong Kong to Britain.

Protesters pose for photographs before they march in support of the Hong Kong protests

This wasn’t the end of our quarrel with China over the opium trade, and in 1856 we picked a second fight with the Chinese to get greater access and to legalise the opium trade, ending in the 1869 Convention of Peking which also ceded a part of Kowloon to join Hong Kong. The final area of Hong Kong, the New Territories were added on a 99 year lease in 1898.

At the rally on Whitehall facing Downing St. But the British Government can no longer send a gunboat and dictate to China.

In 1984 when the end of that lease was only a dozen years away, Margaret Thatcher signed the Sino–British Joint Declaration with China, returning all of Hong Kong to China on 1 July 1997. Under this agreement Hong Kong would be a ‘Special Administrative Region‘ which would retain its capitalist system and way of life unchanged for 50 years until 2047 in what is known as the “one country, two systems” principle.

Posters make the Chinese response to the Hong Kong protests clear.

China now considers the joint declaration to be only of historical significance, while the UK government and the G7 still regard it as an important international treaty. In practice there is probably little Britain can do to see that either the letter or the spirit of the agreement is adhered to. China – and the Chinese students and others who came out to oppose the protest supporting the Hong Kong protesters see Hong Kong as a matter of China’s internal affairs.

More pictures from the pro-Hong Kong and Chinese protests at Stand with Hong Kong & opposition.


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