Britain-China History Amidst Possible Hong Kong Exodus

Britain-China History Amidst Possible Hong Kong Exodus

As Britain has announced citizenship for Hong Kong residents amidst a new draconian law brought by China, let’s take a look at why Britain is offering citizenship and why this can be understood by going back in the imperial ages.

Crux of the Matter

Recent Opening
On 2 February 2021, the UK opened a ‘special visa scheme’ for millions of Hong Kong citizens. The scheme provides a chance to HK citizens to shift to the UK and eventually get British citizenship.

Around 5 million people (out of total 7 million) are eligible to move to the UK (also counting dependents) as per BBC. The scheme has come months after China imposed ‘national security law’ in HK which cuts on HK’s pro-democracy demands.

Read Summachar’s coverage on the national security law: What Is Hong Kong Security Law And It’s History?

Prime Minister of the UK Boris Johnson had called the security law “serious” violation of the “Sino-British Joint Declaration” of 1984.

To understand why the UK specifically is providing citizenship to HK, we need to go back to the Opium wars.

First Opium War

  • The British illegally imported opium to China (from then-colony India) for massive profits.
  • 1839: Chinese crackdown on its import started after addiction caused economic and social chaos.
  • 1842: British attack occurred after crackdown – China lost and ceded Hong Kong to it.

Second Opium War

  • Another opium war broke even before the first war was able to resolve the opium issue.
  • British (with French aid) won again – took Kowloon Peninsula’s southern region (near Hong Kong).
  • In 1898, Britain signed a treaty with China to lease HK, Kowloon and other islands for 99 years.

HK was considered a part of ‘4 Asian Tigers’ along with Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan due to its rapidly growing economy in the 1970s.

  • Admiral Charles Elliot was a British Royal Navy officer, diplomat, and colonial administrator. He became the first Administrator of Hong Kong in 1841 while serving as both Plenipotentiary and Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China. He was a key founder in the establishment of Hong Kong as a British colony.
  • Unequal treaty‘ is the name given by the Chinese to a series of treaties signed between the Qing dynasty and various Western powers, Russia, and the Empire of Japan during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The agreements, often reached after a military defeat, contained one-sided terms requiring China to cede land, pay reparations, open treaty ports, or grant extraterritorial privileges to foreign citizens.
  • The Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing) was a peace treaty which ended the First Opium War (1839–1842) between the United Kingdom and China on 29 August 1842. It was the first of what the Chinese later called the ‘unequal treaties’.