Britain’s double Chinese betrayal?

136224102 300x211 Britain’s double Chinese betrayal?The relationship between the Chinese and the British goes back over 200 years. And the products of that relationship are evident throughout what used to be Britain’s Empire. It can be seen in the architecture it left behind in Shanghai and Hong Kong and in the populations of Chinese descent living in Britain and the countries that were part of that Empire, both formal and informal.

The East India Company recruited Chinese seamen in the eighteenth century to man its trading vessels in the Far East. The Royal Navy recruited them in the Napoleonic Wars. Heirs to the Great Voyages of Admiral Zheng He, they were known to be excellent seamen, sober and industrious.

Chinese seamen in their thousands were used in the British merchant fleet in both the First and Second World Wars, most sailing out of the city of Liverpool in the North West of England. Hundreds of these men settled down with local women and began to raise families only to find that at the end of the conflict that they were no longer needed.

After World War I men found themselves unable to get work, some waiting two years to find a ship. After World War II, the situation was to be far worse. Almost twenty thousand Chinese mariners were based in Liverpool manning the convoys that brought the supplies from the USA without which Britain could not fight the War. Like in the first conflict, hundreds formed relationships with girls in the city and had children. At least a thousand babies were born to these Anglo-Chinese couples.

Many of these men were from Shanghai.  They had formed their own trade union, separate from that sponsored by the Kuomintang. Soon they came to be regarded by the shipowners as ‘troublemakers’.  And troublemakers they were as they fought to be treated as equals of the British mariners.  They did the same jobs and faced the same dangers but were payed far less.

Eventually, they achieved what they sought but at the end of the War the shipowners determined to get rid of them.  For the men with families this was a disaster.  Denied shore work, they were not to be told they had rights to remain in the country if married to a British woman. Offered only one-way voyages back to China few were ever to see their families again.  They had served their purpose and were no longer needed.

The parallels with what happened to the citizens of Hong Kong are all too sadly evident.  The citizens of Hong Kong were full citizens of the UK.  They had full British passports with rights of residence in Britain. Then 1997, the date when the territory had to be handed back to China, appeared on the horizon. Those rights were taken away.  Hong Kong was no longer needed.  Its people were no longer needed. Even if they did not identify with the PRC – the place from which so many had fled. They would be left to its all-too-doubtful mercies.

It would be an exaggeration to say that concern for Hong Kong’s future disappeared from UK policy at midnight on 1 July 1997 – but not too much of an exaggeration. In a submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s investigation into UK relations with China, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office reconfirmed its ‘moral and political’ commitment to the people of Hong Kong. But the main emphasis in this submission was that the UK’s objectives in dealing with China were to influence China’s political, economic and social development in a positive way and to encourage China to play a responsible role both within the region and in the wider international community.

In effect, strengthening economic ties with China is portrayed as being the best way of integrating China into ‘international society’ and also of benefiting the interests of UK business. This is not to say that political dialogue over issues such as human rights has been abandoned. The UK is alone among EU states in retaining a bilateral process of negotiation with China over human rights whilst also participating in multilateral dialogue through the EU. Nevertheless, the UK’s interests in China have been redefined in largely economic terms, and policy towards China has been largely built on the best way of enhancing these economic interests both for their own sake (assisting UK commercial interests) and as a means to an end (of engaging China).

Unease over the UK policy in promoting positive change within China is fired by a concern that economic considerations and commercial interests are overriding other political and ethical concerns. Furthermore, there is a suspicion that China has rewarded countries that take a soft stance on human rights abuses by awarding commercial contracts to companies from those countries. This is particularly the case because commercial interests and private enterprises argue that they need specific government help to access the Chinese market due to its special nature.

China may have a population in excess of 1.3 billion people, but this does not automatically equate to a market of 1.3 billion consumers waiting to buy UK-produced goods and services. Income and wealth is also unevenly spread. There is a considerable divergence of income between coastal provinces and those in the interior, and an even wider division between urban and rural residents. In reality, the current potential market in China for UK producers is probably around 150 million consumers.

Chinese investment has flowed faster into Britain. Its direct investment in the UK has topped 2.3 billion US dollars. Early this year, China Investment Corporation (CIC), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, has bought 8.68% of the company behind the UK utility group Thames Water.

The Chancellor, George Osborne has urged Chinese investors to put money into British transport, energy and utility projects. The planned High Speed 2 rail link from London to Birmingham and the north is among the projects to have attracted interest from China, along with big industrial developments including the Atlantic Gateway in the north-west of England. Other projects under discussion include updating Britain’s energy infrastructure, broadband investment and road schemes.
So, with billons of dollars pouring into the UK, will China have a hold over the UK’s foreign policy when it comes to human rights? We must surely hope not.

Yvonne Foley is founder of and Sonny Leong is Publisher and Chair for Chinese for Labour

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  • Samuraijamie

    This is not true – a trip to the Home Office website will dispell some of the above myths. The insinuation about it being a Nazi crime is absurd and silly. It is not to say the citizens of HK were treated fairly – they were not, being essentially caught between two competing powers. I am also a big fan of HK and HK-ers. My purpose in my original post is not to somehow justify the treatment received, but simply to correct factual inaccuracies.

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    Samuraijamie is misled. The Home Office Website does not deal with the history of citizenship in Hong Kong, but with the situation today!
    At the Nuremburg Rally in 1935 the Nuremburg Laws removed Citizenship from Jewish Citizens of Germany. Such action was despicable and is now illegal under international law.
    The attitude of the Westminster Parliament to it’s many dependencies has never been constant but variable. Weihai and Hong Kong were always thought of as Chinese by the Chinese Government, and all Chinese descendents were Citizens of China. Dual Citizenship is permitted. Weihai returned to China in the 1930s, and Hong Kong recently. The matter of citizenship was only of concern for those of India, Pakistan and Nepal who lived in Hong Kong and did not have the ability to claim Chinese Citizenship, nor that of India, Pakistan and Nepal which have exclusive nationality acts, whilst China has an inclusive nationality act.

  • henryseventh

    You are right about these small city states, Monaco is another example.

  • Guest

    China does not care in the slightest about human rights, nor does it care about anyone’s interests but its own. Grow up, why don’t you?

    what has always puzzled me is that if we have such an enormous financial sector, upon which our economy supposedly depends, why are we dependent upon the Chinese to pay for anything that actually costs money, and take the actual returns back tp China?

  • M Henri Day

    «So, with billons of dollars pouring into the UK, will China have a hold over the UK’s foreign policy when it comes to human rights? We must surely hope not.» No, Ms Foley and Leong, the United States government has a firm lock on the UK’s foreign policy, and thousands of millions of dollars of Chinese investment in the island(s) are unlikely to change that. Thus the world will continue to be the wonderful place it is today, with those constant US wars in which the UK always particpates – in the great Leibniz’ phrase, «le meilleur des mondes possibles», which God in his infinite wisdom has chosen….

    Of course, were the Chinese to invest real «billions» in the UK, God might just choose differently….


  • Kieran Tsao

    How nice of you to casually skip over the time when Britain invaded China and force its citizens by gunpoint to buy opium off them. The drug dealers of the time. And the authors are Chinese (or half) too, you should know your roots!!!

  • Kieran Tsao

    Yes, if you take a step back you can see the irony. Back in the day in Victorian Britain, drugs were banned at home but the British foisted drugs on a massive scale to the Chinese, who promptly got addicted. Fast forward 200 years, drugs are banned – dealers are punishable by death – but most of the “legal highs” you read are made in China. And have got much of the British addicted, from upper class professionals to chavs. Drug gangs rule some parts of cities. 

    Wonderful, delicious irony.

  • 27playup

    Yes -the whole Saga was and is ironical but despite these catastophies eg  World War 2 ’the light is never overcome by the darkest night’ . Humanity survives despite ‘greed and evil’ prospering but only in the short term ‘.Hope spings eternal’  and all that -yes there is always Hope!And we are where we are now -  onwards and upwards

  • Skriv Skrivener

    Every single country, including China, could have dossiers of events and human rights mistakes collated by historians for use against it.

    If in the modern world, incidents from such artificial dossiers of historical events are being used only by one side, they do need querying. If not, such one-sided arguments turn into an accepted fact & that fact can be used almost as a weapon (like in this article).

    Almost all countries could be accused of betraying China, or a group of Chinese people, in the past.  Almost all countries could find some incident that would allow them to accuse China of betraying them, or some of their citizens, sometime in the past.

    All you then do is join any two completely unrelated incidents & you can establish “A Double Betrayal”, (as used in above headline) “A Double Betrayal” proves bejond doubt, prolonged & planned actions with very evil intent?

    Such “Double Betrayals”, if left unquestioned, would justify every country holding a grudge against every other country, for ever. 

    Once these “Double Betrayals” has been established in folk-law, everybody in every country can no longer use free speech, for fear of further upsetting a country that past generations have been proven to have repeatedly betrayed.

  • Skriv Skrivener

    If I offer someone a job, am I ‘using them’ or are they ‘using me’?  Hopefully neither

    If I choose to take a job tomorrow in a British business that has been bought by a Chinese businessman, is the Government of China using me? If I have a baby during the time a Chinese businessman is ‘using me’, can I then accuse the government of China of betraying me?

    It would be great if we toned down the one-sided rhetoric about Chinese seamen who voluntarily chose well paid jobs or arrived here hoping to gain temporary employment. Ok, parts of it was unfair & became a disorganised mess, but I’m sure the Chinese governments did not bestowed Chinese citizenship to every person arriving from a bordering country (or from say Britain)?  Very few countries arranged their citizenship that way.

    Just because Chinese citizenship was not offered to every visiting worker to China two generations ago, are all neighbouring countries now claiming that the Government of China betrayed their country. Of course not.

    Chinese business currently employs hundreds of thousands of North Korean workers in the same sort of grim surfdom employment that those seamen were trying to escape from in 1917. When the surrent jobs finish they will naturaly be sent home. There will be no Chinese passports handed out. Korea will not accuse China of betrayal, because it is not.

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