Island on lease

The British signed a 99-year lease for Hong Kong on June 9, 1898 which was administered as a British crown colony until July 1, 1997.

Published - June 12, 2017 04:14 pm IST

 ON THE PEARL RIVER DELTA: Strategically placed.

ON THE PEARL RIVER DELTA: Strategically placed.

British Hong Kong was the name given to this island on June 9, 1898 when the British signed a 99 year lease from the Qing Dynasty in China. In the 19th century, Britain developed an insatiable appetite for tea, of which China was the only producer. The Qing Dynasty, however, did not want to buy anything that the British produced and they in turn did not want to use the country’s reserves of gold and silver to buy tea.

Forced sale

Britain decided to export opium from the Indian Subcontinent to China in exchange for tea. The Chinese government objected to the large scale import of narcotics into the country. But this did not deter the British merchants who then took to smuggling the drug into China.

The Qing government took strict action and Chinese officials destroyed over 20,000 barrels of opium. This provoked Britain to declare war on China as they wanted China to pay for the loss and protect their illegal drug-smuggling operations.

The First Opium War lasted from 1839 to 1842. Britain occupied the island of Hong Kong on January 25, 1841, and used it as its military base. China was defeated, and had to give up Hong Kong to Britain through the Treaty of Nanking.

The British continuously worried about the security of their free port in Hong Kong, as the island was surrounded by areas still under Chinese control. The treaty also failed to satisfy British expectations of expansion of trade and profit. The British decided take over the area officially with a legally binding lease.

In 1898, after the Second Opium War, the British and Chinese governments signed the Second Convention of Peking, which included a 99-year lease agreement for the islands surrounding Hong Kong. They called it the New Territories, and the British formally took possession on April 16, 1899. The lease gave the British control of more than 200 islands surrounding Hong Kong. It was agreed that the islands would be returned to China after 99 years.

On December 19, 1984, Margaret Thatcher, the then British Prime Minister and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, whereby Britain agreed to return not only the New Territories but also Kowloon and Hong Kong in 1997. China promised to implement a One Country, Two Systems regime, under which for 50 years, Hong Kong citizens could continue to practise capitalism and political freedoms unlike the mainland where it was forbidden.

The hand over ceremony was held at the new wing of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai on the night of June 30, 1997. The principal British guest was Charles, Prince of Wales who read a farewell speech on behalf of the Queen and the newly appointed Prime Minister of the U.K., Tony Blair. The British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, the departing Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, General Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff of the U.K. were also present.

On July 1, 1997, the government of Great Britain transferred control of Hong Kong and the surrounding territories to the People’ s Republic of China.

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