Retreat from the last Colony

Although there are still some dependant territories scattered around the globe. The handing back of Hong Kong to China closed the final chapter on the British Empire. Hong Kong was the last significant colony.

The success of Hong Kong as a financial and economic centre is one of the postwar success stories. And yet, the failure to endow the people of Hong Kong with a functioning democratic system had finally caught up with the British administration. Time can only tell how serious an oversight this will be! It being wholly dependant upon the conduct of the Chinese masters. This is the only case of a colony being transferred to a less democratic system than it enjoyed under Imperial rule.

Hong Kong was founded, in extremely morally dubious circumstances, as the result of the 1840 Opium wars. It was further enlarged in 1898 with the 99 year lease of the New Territories. With the exception of its fine natural harbour, it was a fairly inauspicious colony in the hey-day of the empire; concerned almost entirely with trade. It fell quickly to the Japanese in World War II, which partly exposed the sham of its strategic necessity. It was only with the fall of Nationalist China and the rise of the Communists that Hong Kong began to be seen as economically and strategically important to the Western World in the era of the Cold War. Add to this, the rise of other pacific economies, the famed Chinese work ethic and thriftiness, an honest and trusted legal system and it all adds up to the creation of one of the most successful city state economies the world has ever known. The statement that Britain governed best when it governed least was admirably demonstrated to be a truthful statement by the colony of Hong Kong.

That Hong Kong was always a truly Chinese city could never be challenged. There may be misgivings about the manner in which Communist China will rule over Hong Kong, but the passing of Imperial rule cannot be regretted. The British have been fair, liberal and allowed the people of Hong Kong to do what they do best - which is making money. Yet, with the advent of the new Millenium, continued Imperial rule would have been an anachronism offensive to the rulers and ruled. Even at the end of the British rule in Hong Kong, it was possible for you to still detect the last vestiges of the arrogance and divisions between the ruled and rulers. The best possible solution for Hong Kong was always going to be, as it is almost everywhere, to let themselves rule themselves. How quickly Communist China learns this lesson will be the chief determinant of the success or failure of the future of Hong Kong. It was better that Britain bowed out with grace and honour and, in so doing, closing the final chapter of the Empire's History with at least some dignity intact.

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by Stephen Luscombe