There are 300,000 hard drug addicts; 80,000 triad gang members; several hundred thousand squatters; sickness and squalor all around. The post boxes are red. It is hot. The policemen wear short trousers. No doubt about it: this must be a British colony. Of the past one would think. No, the time is now. The location: the South China Coast. The name: Hong Kong; the ‘fragrant harbour’, ‘pearl of the Orient’. Little wonder that France’s most imaginative sado-masochistic novelist, Alain Robbe-Grillet, sniffing the repression, should situate a sexist phantasy, La Maison de Rendez-vous, in this colony. For Robbe-Grillet, Hong Kong may be a locale for phantasy. For most who live there it is a reality of exploitation and degradation—while for most of the inhabitants of Britain, their country’s Crown Colony is just one big blank. It is the purpose of this article to fill in some of the facts on Hong Kong, where they are known: the colony’s economic significance, its strange history, its terrible conditions, its completely undemocratic constitution. Public discussion of such information is essential if Britain is to terminate its aggression against China.

In world terms Hong Kong is one of the twenty top trading ‘nations’.footnote1 With a population of 4¼ million, it exports more than India, which has 140 times its population. It is among the handful of the globe’s most intensively industrialized territories.footnote2 It has the sixth largest merchant fleet on the seas. Turnover in its stock market during 1972–3 was the third largest (and at periods the second largest) in the world, exceeding that on the stock markets of West Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries put together. Though geographically small, Hong Kong is one of the world’s major economic units.

Hong Kong acquired some of its assets from China: capital, machinery, technological skills, capitalists, gangsters, police, brothel-owners, dope pedlars—the whole gamut of people and things required to turn the Colony into a manufacturing and tourist centre. The basis of Hong Kong’s rapid growth was not an industrial revolution in the ordinary sense of the term, but a transfer of existing capital and industry, mainly from Shanghai (this is briefly discussed below).footnote3

As part of its contribution to the blanket of ignorance shrouding the Colony, the regime does not publish statistics on gnp or per capita income nor does it require fully audited and fully disclosed statements of ownership of assets.footnote4 Hong Kong is the only major capitalist regime in the world which conceals this information. It is rather hard, therefore, to know exactly who owns what, or what ownership is worth. In particular, the big ‘British’footnote5 combines which have been operating in the Colony for decades have managed to conceal their wealth through a maze of dummy companies, unconsolidated company accounts and private companies which do not publish any figures at all. In the property sector, especially, much crucial information is not made public.

With these provisos, it is most probable that the ‘British’ conglomerates still dominate the economy as a whole, through their control of the money supply, insurance rates, property and commerce, if not through direct ownership of industry. The issue of money is entirely in the hands of the ‘British’ clique. Moreover, the bulk of the money is issued not by the government but directly by the big private banks. The private banks issue the notes, and the government issues the coins. The Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation issues about 85 per cent of the notes, and the rest comes from the Chartered Bank and the Mercantile Bank (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hong Kong &Shanghai).footnote6

Apart from the banks, the main companies in the Colony are four giant ‘British’ conglomerates: Jardine Matheson, Hutchison, Wheelock Marden and the Swire Group (formerly Butterfield & Swire). Between them, these four are generally reckoned to account for about half the total value of all the companies listed on the Colony’s stock exchanges. (Many important operations are not listed at all, but the proportions would probably be roughly the same). An idea of the sums of money involved can be got from the fact that when the stock market was at its peak in 1973, the Jardine group had a market value of £5,000m and its main subsidiary, Hong Kong Land, with a market value of nearly £2,000m, stood for a while as not only the biggest property company on the globe, but at a higher value than all the major uk property companies put together.footnote7

These conglomerates are in on the cartels fixing interest and insurance rates. Their chiefs or delegates sit on all the key bodies in the Colony—the Jockey Club,footnote8 the Executive Council (Exco), the Legislative Council (Legco), etc. They are close to the major public utilities, and many of the most lucrative contracts and franchises in this important sector are distributed without open bidding or public hearings—or with a mere charade.footnote9 They wield enormous power, and have continued to use Hong Kong as a privileged base while they branch out into Southeast Asia and the Pacific. In most countries there are at least formalities to be gone through. In Hong Kong, the monopolies really are a tiny group that manipulates the money supply, the stock exchange and the government, with no questions asked while it bends the labour laws, adjusts taxation and makes sure that there are no currency restrictions. And all this in a major industrial economy with billions of dollars changing hands. Conservative and Labour governments may make different decisions in the metropolis, but as far as Hong Kong is concerned, business can go on a permanent rampage, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.