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The Story of Hong Kong - Asia's Economic Powerhouse

Frenetic, perennially busy Hong Kong, a leading global financial center and self-proclaimed, ‘Asia’s World City,' began life as a quiet backwater populated by farmers and fishermen. Situated on one side of the mouth of the Pearl River Delta in Southern China, Hong Kong led a relatively unassuming existence until the British colonized it.

The British used Hong Kong as a naval base during the first Opium War in the mid-nineteenth Century. The war featured China and Britain on opposing sides. A number of conflicting issues like diplomatic relations, trade and the treatment of foreign nationals led to the flare up of hostilities between the two nations.

The two warring countries signed the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the first Opium War in 1842. The Chinese regarded the controversial treaty to be very unequal as it gave the British access to five treaty ports namely Shanghai, Fuchow, Ningpo, Amoy and Canton along with control of the island of Hong Kong until perpetuity.

The Second Opium War (1856-1860) afforded the British even more Chinese territory, as they brought the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutters Island under their purview. Then in 1898, the British acquired the New Territories area of Hong Kong on a 99-year lease. In this manner the British, extended their control over all of Hong Kong.

During the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the colony’s population grew rapidly as hordes of refugees from China poured into Hong Kong, as they fled the establishment of the Chinese Republic in 1912. The British went on to modernize and develop Hong Kong as they established various industries in the colony. As a result, the economy of Hong Kong prospered and the colony flourished.

In 1932, Japan seized Manchuria, this event led to the fierce Sino-Japanese war, which broke out in 1937 and continued until the end of the Second World War in 1945. During this long and arduous war, the Chinese turned to the British for the sourcing of wartime supplies. Thus, the once frosty relationship between the Chinese and the British began to thaw.

As the Japanese began to advance further into China, thousands of Chinese nationals sought refuge in Hong Kong. In the meanwhile, war had broken out in Europe and it was not long that Hong Kong as a British colony, found itself embroiled in the Second World War. The war severely disrupted the economic and social life of Hong Kong and the British colony soon came under siege, when on December 8th, 1941 Japanese aircraft pummeled the Kowloon Peninsula. The British defended Hong Kong valiantly but they were forced to surrender the control of Hong Kong to the Japanese on Christmas Day in 1941.

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong represents an extremely brutal time in Hong Kong's history. The occupation lasted three years and eight months and during this time, the Japanese instituted martial law in Hong Kong. Rationing, widespread atrocities and the complete breakdown of economic and social systems were some of the main features of this time. The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong finally ended when Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies at the end of the Second World War on 14th August 1945.

Britain, at the end of the war, reclaimed Hong Kong and soon the wheels of commerce once again began to churn in the ‘fragrant harbor’ i.e. Hong Kong. However, when the Communist era began in China after the Chinese Civil War (1946-1949), Chinese refugees once again poured into Hong Kong. As the population of Hong Kong swelled, the colony went on to add many manufacturing industries during the 1950’s and 1960’s to take advantage of additional regional resources. Industrialization, trade and commerce all gathered pace after the end of the war and by 1970, Hong Kong was acclaimed as a major Asian economic powerhouse.

During the 1980’s Hong Kong and China began to work on several economic initiatives, which brought both the countries closer. Then in 1984, on 19th December, the British and Chinese governments, after years of diplomatic negotiations went on to sign a landmark agreement known as Sino-British joint declaration on the question of Hong Kong. This agreement, which was signed in Beijing, stated that in 1997 when Britain's 99-year lease of the New Territories was due to end, Hong Kong would be handed back to China.

On July 1, 1997, the control of Hong Kong was peacefully handed over to China in an elaborate ceremony with numerous British and Chinese dignitaries in attendance. The chief executive of newly formed Hong Kong government, Tung Chee Hwa then went on to formulate a policy for governing Hong Kong, based on the idea of "one country, two systems” with an effort to maintain Hong Kong's inherent capitalist character. This policy also established Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of China.

Under this principle, the People’s Republic of China has agreed to grant Hong Kong much autonomy in the conduct of its affairs. It has also agreed to perpetuate Hong Kong's economic, legal and social systems until 2047 or fifty years after the handover. As a result, Hong Kong today has its own judiciary, police and currency. The People’s Republic of China, however, determines Hong Kong’s foreign and defense policies. Democratic processes in the SAR are administered under the aegis of Hong Kong’s constitution known as the Basic Law.

Present-day Hong Kong is a bustling, densely populated metropolis populated by a plethora of sky-touching skyscrapers. The city’s vibrant economy over the years has also transformed, for China has in recent times taken over many of the production processes, which were once based in Hong Kong. As a result, the economy of Hong Kong has become more service-centric and the SAR today is a renowned hub for the financial, legal and shipping industries. Additionally, Hong Kong’s deep-water port and state of the art international airport conduits for China’s burgeoning spheres of commerce.

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