Hong Kong was ruled by Britain from 1842 to 1997.
China’s imperial Qing Dynasty ceded the island to Queen Victoria under the Treaty of Nanking on August 29, 1842, to end the First Opium War.
Between 1839 and 1842, British armies fought the opium war on behalf of drug traffickers against the Qing Dynasty. Their victory opened up the lucrative China trade to British merchants.
On July 1, 1898, Britain was granted 99 years of rule over the Hong Kong colony under the The Second Convention of Peking. The lease would allow Britain to also have sovereignty over the New Territories, which is connected to mainland China, together with 235 islands.
An international bilateral announcement, the Sino–British Joint Declaration, was signed by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Chinese counterpart Zhao Ziyang on December 19, 1984.
A pro-democracy protester waves a British colonial flag during a rally at a shopping mall in the Central district in Hong Kong earlier this month
According to the document, Hong Kong would revert to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under an administrative principle known as ‘one country, two systems’.
The policy was to guarantee Hong Kong greater freedoms than those on the mainland until 2047, such as the freedom of speech and people’s right to protest.
The handover ceremony, which ended more than 150 years of British control over the territory, was attended by Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Hong Kong’s last governor Chris Patten.
Memorialised by the Chinese with a blockbuster movie, the handover was touted by Beijing as a great victory, while many in Britain regarded it as not just deeply humiliating, but also a travesty for the people of Hong Kong.
Patten would later write: ‘Hong Kong became the only example of decolonization deliberately accompanied by less democracy and a weaker protection of civil liberties.
‘This was a cause for profound regret, especially for the departing colonial power. But it was China’s doing and China’s decision.
‘I am pleased that Britain narrowly avoided complicity in the dishonourable act of denying the citizens of free Hong Kong what they had been promised in 1984.’
Many historians interpret the handover of Hong Kong as the end of British Empire, the ceding of her last substantial overseas colony – one with a colossal population and potent economic power.
Britain’s remaining territories consisted of tiny islands or enclaves with little to offer financially.
In the last year of Britain’s grip on Hong Kong the island’s GDP was $180billion. In contrast the island of Bermuda’s GDP was $5.6billion in 2013.