Was the 99-year lease agreement for the islands and the New Territories really “as good as forever” for Hong Kong, as Sir Claude Macdonald claimed? Maybe the British diplomat would have gotten a different opinion, only if he could fast-forward time.
Taking over the New Territories was not on the Empire’s agenda though during the early stage of the colony, despite the urge from the British businessmen and government officials that tried to transform China into another India for greater imperial interests. The Royals feared that it might trigger another series of wars from neighboring states in the West and destroy the free-trade agreement with China. But the uprising of Japan changed the game completely that made the New Territories not an option rather a necessity for the British to prove its imperial status.
The insurgency of nationalism in China in the late 1890s had made things simple for the colonial officials. The Chinese somehow gave up bargaining and agreed on the 99-year lease without having the British pay a penny during the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, because of the pressure from the nationalists. They thought the Chinese diplomats would be betraying the nation if offering the New Territories in exchange for money. So, the convention was unlike the previous two fierce Opium wars – no injuries, no deaths, and no combat. Resistance to the colonial armed forces, however, was apparent in the newly occupied areas. The locals fought their hearts out to defend their home but left with hundreds of corpses from guns and canons.
Voices silenced and rebellions suppressed do resonate with the modern times of ruling. Hong Kong is never complete without New Territories, though the 99-year lease is like a time funnel, that doesn’t come with guarantees of forever.
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