Those who know me often find out quickly that I am an Anglophile and that I support (for all its faults) the idea of a coherent British Empire. From that point, especially when I express my wish that Hong Kong were still a British colony today, it is easy to extrapolate that I think Hong Kong should have remained a British colony in perpetuum.
Convention of Peking (1860).
But, though I often feel the need to correct people’s impressions about the terms of the unequal treaties concluded between the Qing Empire and the British Empire, such an inference about my ideals and sentiments is inaccurate. Indeed, I believe such a disposal of Hong Kong would run against important facts of both practicality and justice.
I do believe British rule has done Hong Kong much good. To romanticize those ‘good old days’, I know, would be both naïve and irresponsible, but God really did bring good out of the evil of the Opium War. In Hong Kong he has brought to the Chinese people a mature rule of law that the rest of China does not have. While even Taiwan was under martial law for decades after the Second World War, Hong Kong prospered in relative peace and openness. After 4 June 1989, Hong Kong was the safe destination to which Operation Yellowbird (黃雀行動) moved Tian’anmen Square dissidents. The destinies of Hong Kong and China are bound together, and the Lord has graciously seen fit to use Hong Kong as a special place for the good of China.
Nevertheless, in my judgement, it was wrong for Britain to have colonized Hong Kong in the first place, and at the end of the Second World War it was wrong for the United States to have backed Britain’s determination to be the power receiving Japanese surrender in Hong Kong despite the city’s being part of Chiang Kai-shek’s operational control zone. We must be frank about the Western powers’ dishonourable acts, and I must say honestly that the only motivation I can see for Britain’s insistence on being the power to accept Japan’s surrender in Hong Kong was greed and unwillingness to let Hong Kong go.
Given these considerations on both sides, I can state what I think the ideal for Hong Kong. I speak not as a native but as an American who has harboured bonds of affection for a city I have never lived in, yet always thought of as the home of my heart, a place to speak of ‘returning’ to, and never a foreign place.
My view of the ideal is most certainly not for Hong Kong to have remained a colony of anyone. For the dignity of the place and its people, it was not fitting that it should stay in the jurisdiction of a foreign Parliament elected by foreigners, with no legislative representation of Hong Kong’s own interests. If Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are by rights independent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, how much more the Pearl of the Orient? And yet, equally, despite its national kinship with China, how is Hong Kong rightfully subjugated by people who neither speak its languages nor have sympathy for its customs and its legal institutions? Hong Kong’s part in the Chinese nation is a sic et non. To keep it entirely apart from China would be untrue to what its people have always felt, because many of its people have felt the stirrings of Chinese nationalism; and yet to subsume it entirely into the rivers and mountains of China would be to rewrite history. The place is peculiar; its identity is not easily untangled.
Œconomically, of course, Hong Kong has its own currency and its own stock exchange. Having its œconomic policy determined by outsiders, even very sympathetic outsiders, could not be in its interest; nor would the city tolerate such interference. Even though Hong Kong has been free of tariffs, only a long period of gradual integration, potentially centuries long, could ever change this need for autonomy.
To put it crudely, I would say Hong Kong would best be an independent free city, ruled neither by Britain nor by China, but intimate with both; but such terms are inadequate. Hong Kong’s identity, though difficult to define, is more coherent than that of Singapore. Nevertheless, there are problems unique to city-states with not much hinterland to speak of. Given the relative size of such states, their œconomies and defence are always dependent on unequal relationships with larger powers. Though every state has to be responsible for its own defence, there is no way a state as small as San Marino can stand without a significantly larger Italy. This principle is without exception, that very small states live by the power of imperial forces larger than themselves. For Andorra, these powers are France and Spain; for Singapore, the United States and (increasingly, it seems) red China. For Hong Kong, naturally, the balance must include China – some China, whether based in Nanking, Taipei, or Peking – and the most natural second force would be Britain.
The best that can be desired, I think, supposes a free and Christian China. Such a China would differ from Hong Kong in its laws and currency but have a common defensive interest and a common respect for the rule of law. The churches of Hong Kong would be part of Chinese denominations because the Christian faith would be not only tolerated but given every opportunity to influence public institutions and provide the Chinese nation with ethical guidance. Naturally, over time, the laws of Hong Kong would converge in some areas with the laws of China. A certain degree of integration could develop that would not be desirable with the China of today, even as Hong Kong maintained its independence.
The chief executive, serving as head of government, would continue to be elected by a committee, but one that was much more broadly representative than today and included a large number of delegates elected by universal suffrage of citizens aged 18 years and older. To maintain a balance between attachment to China and distinction from China, there would be two heads of state to oversee foreign affairs, grant pardons and other acts of clemency, and open and dissolve sessions of the Legislative Council: the Chinese head of state and the monarch at the head of the Commonwealth of Nations. Thus the city’s independence in internal affairs could be assured by local votes – and, importantly, its currency could be pegged to the American dollar, the British pound sterling, or anything else – but its international dependence on larger powers would also be acknowledged in the form of its diarchy.
Such is the arrangement that, however odd, I find the most natural for such a unique city as Hong Kong. No doubt among many people it would meet with disapproval, but I mean to suggest that it might best conduce to the honour and prosperity of the city’s people.