Why the British handed over Hong Kong to China

Published on in category History
Why the British handed over Hong Kong to China

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong changed its status from a British colony to a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China. The handover took place formally on the previous day with the participation of the leading representatives of the two powers, Prince Charles on the one hand and by President Jiang Zemin on the other. But why did the British hand over Hong Kong to China? What preceded this act?


The huge interest in Chinese goods in Europe in the early 19th century caused trade imbalances. To redress this imbalance, the British began illegally importing opium into China, which they were growing in large numbers in freshly conquered parts of India. The drug began to be in great demand in China. However, opium caused ever-increasing problems, and in 1839, Emperor sent official Lin Zexu to Canton, which at the time was a trading hub between China and other powers, to stop any opium trade. Since all his peace efforts to stop the trade were unsuccessful, Lin ordered the blocking of foreign ships and confiscated all opium by force. This act prompted Great Britain to declare war, the so-called first opium war. Within three years, the United Kingdom forced China to surrender and sign the Nanking Agreement, in which, among other things, it had to cede the island of Hong Kong to Great Britain.

Subsequent disagreements between the two countries and the still weakening power of the Chinese Qing dynasty led to the Second Opium War in 1856, which ended four years after by crushing defeat of China and the signing of the so-called Beijing Agreement. Among other things, it ceded Kowloon to Great Britain and thus extended the territory of Hong Kong to the inland peninsula.

After the defeat of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, European powers in China began to strengthen their influence through various agreements in which China undertook to lease certain territories free of charge for a period of time. The lease of the port city of L├╝shunkou to the Russian Empire forced Great Britain to gain territory in the north to balance Russian influence. Also in the south, where France acquired an area called Guangzhouwan for 99 years, the British balanced their influence on June 6, 1898, by leasing New Territories and adjacent islands for 99 years, greatly expanding the territory to the level of present-day Hong Kong. This agreement was to expire on June 30, 1997.

Since the 1950s, construction of residential areas outside Kowloon and Hong Kong has begun due to growing population density. This made the handover of the New Territories to China very impractical, as it would divide the closely interconnected territories into two parts. Pressure from the People's Republic of China to restore the entire territory also increased. This pressure was supported by the above-mentioned agreements, in which China signed them at a very disadvantageous position. In the 1984 Sino-British Declaration, the two powers agreed to hand over the entire territory to China. On July 1, 1997, the 156-year British government ended in Hong Kong.

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