Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Jan. 30, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper
The struggle over Hong Kong's return to China
By Sara Flounders
Hong Kong, a Crown Colony of the British Empire for 155 years, is scheduled to return to China on July 1 of this year. More than 8,000 journalists will be in Hong Kong to cover the ceremony, which will be broadcast around the world.
This long-awaited event has sparked an endless series of discussions in capitalist ruling circles aimed at placing new demands on the People's Republic of China.
The British imperialists stole this port from China in the first place. It is past time they give it back. What could be simpler? But the transfer of a small piece of real estate is exposing many international dimensions of the class struggle.
What is really at issue is who will decide the destiny of China. Is China taking over Hong Kong, reasserting its sovereignty, or can imperialism, through Hong Kong, again take over China?
A struggle is underway to ensure that the vast amounts of world capital that move through Hong Kong can continue unrestricted by any regulations from the PRC.
Hong Kong is a British enclave of 399 square miles stolen from China in three forced expropriations between 1842 and 1898. It is at the mouth of the mighty Pearl River, the commercial center of southeast China. It consists of Hong Kong island, Kowloon island, the New Territories on the Chinese mainland, ceded in 1898, and 235 offshore islands. The Hong Kong enclave has many natural harbors. Victoria on Hong Kong island is considered one of the finest deep-water ports in the world.
Hong Kong has the world's busiest container port, an international air hub and a stock market that ranks with New York, London, Tokyo and Berlin.
Stolen during Opium Wars
British control of Hong Kong has been a colonial affront, an insult to Chinese sovereignty and self-determination since the land was forcibly ceded by China after the Opium Wars.
Although the 6 million people of Hong Kong represent only one half of 1 percent of the 1.2-billion population of China, Hong Kong has historically been an important bastion in the imperialist drive to dominate all of Asia.
Britain used Hong Kong as a battering ram to smash its way through the trade restrictions of the Chinese dynasty. Using the protected deep-water port as a secure base for the Royal Navy, British gunboats prowled the Chinese coast, forcibly imposing the opium trade and gaining ever wider concessions.
Britain fought two wars to defend its "right to free trade" in China. They became known as the Opium Wars because they meant the right to flood China with cheap opium in exchange for silks, tea and fine handicrafts. Millions of Chinese people became addicted to opium.
In 1839 China forbade the importing of opium and destroyed a large quantity of the drug confiscated from British merchants. Great Britain sent gunboats to blast Chinese coastal cities in defense of its grand principle of "free trade." China had no match for British gunboats and was forced to sign the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, which guaranteed free British access to five major Chinese coastal cities and ceded total control of Hong Kong island.
Today it is not just Britain but the United States that has mounted a campaign to maintain Western influence in Hong Kong. To hear Washington politicians and the corporate media describe it, however, they are deeply concerned with how they can protect a small thriving democracy in the city-state of Hong Kong.
Every article in the major corporate media is aimed at rewriting the history of Hong Kong. Britain and the U.S. are only concerned with preserving the recent "democratic elections" in Hong Kong, the glorious tradition of a "free press," the uncorrupted judiciary, all of which created a prosperous city-state. There are increasing calls for a free and autonomous Hong Kong and the preservation of the "free flow of information."
It is endlessly claimed that these are the great institutions and traditions that have made Hong Kong a major Asian base for global business and financial companies.
Hong Kong is a financial center for thousands of capitalist corporations based in Asia precisely because it is not, nor has it ever been, a democracy. Hong Kong is the purest form of the dictatorship of capital. It is a key center of commerce, finance and trade in Asia precisely because it was a direct colonial enclave.
Never in 155 years of colonial administration did Hong Kong's residents have a vote. There were no general elections. The Legislative Council was filled by a combination of appointments and elections among associations representing banking and financial institutions, trading and shipping companies, ship building, textiles, and electronics industries. Some organizations of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and architects, could also send representatives to the Legislative Council.
Although the population of Hong Kong is 98 percent Chinese, the government has never been headed by any Asian person. The governor of the colony, appointed from Britain, has always been a white English nobleman. He has absolute power, with the legal right to veto anything the ineffective appointed Legislative Council decides.
This anointed government has the right to enforce censorship of any publication and to impose Draconian emergency martial law measures if threatened by any unfavorable movement. The Chinese Communist Party is outlawed.
In December 1984 Britain and China signed an agreement that the stolen port of Hong Kong would revert back to China. However, it would become a special administrative region with considerable autonomy and its capitalist economic system would be unchanged for 50 years. This was expressed under the slogan "one country, two systems."
An attempt to continue to exert political control after the end of British colonial administration began in 1989. After the movement for bourgeois democracy in China was repressed in Tiananmen Square, the British governor, Sir Chris topher Patten, began to create a carefully groomed political party, the Democratic Party.
It is made up of Chinese collaborators who never opposed the British colonial dictatorship yet who are now demanding autonomy and recognition of recent staged elections. Hong Kong has a small but very wealthy and powerful clique of families who since the Opium Wars have benefited from British colonial domination.
In 1996, Patten organized a so-called great democratic election. However, two thirds of the seats were again filled by appointees from the old blocs of business associations, as in the past. Only 35 percent of the registered voters participated in electing the 20 seats open to direct vote.
It was no surprise that the newly created Democratic Party won. The Chinese government refused to recognize this British-created colonial legislature. It has bypassed it and is establishing its own administration. This has created a howl of outrage in the U.S. and Britain.
Bourgeois commentators today demand that the "free, fair and impartial judiciary" also be preserved. Such an institution never existed. The past reality was that major British and U.S. corporate investors ensured that any dispute over property be decided not by people in Asia but by judges appointed in London. All issues decided in Hong Kong courts could always be appealed directly to the highest court, which was the Privy Court based in London.
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