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Conclusion: Britain, the Empire, and the Cold War

Given the immediate parallels between Hong Kong and Cyprus, the temptation exists to over-extrapolate. Hong Kong and Cyprus were two relatively small but strategic islands in the Cold War divided by nationalist and communist politics. Over both colonies, Britain aimed to maintain sovereignty, which was contested by internal communist-nationalist rivalries as well as external powers, themselves wracked with communist-led civil wars and wider Cold War tensions.

However, as was recognized by colonial officials then, direct comparisons between colonies risk reductive fallacies. As Martin, the assistant under-secretary in charge of the Middle East Department and Mediterranean Department, minuted in 1949, ‘Cypriot “Greeks” will not necessarily react in the same way as [the] Chinese’.1 Indeed, a monolithic view of colonial people was a tendency and limitation of Britain’s prewar imperialism. British policy-makers also identified and sought to exploit (but did not always fully understand) the divisions between and within colonial, national, and international communist organizations. That said, British policies towards the local communist parties of Hong Kong and Cyprus as well as towards national and transnational communist movements demonstrated that they had a monolithic understanding of communism’s popular appeal as well as of the policies necessary to defeat it. It is here that a comparison yields results.

© The Author(s) 2017

C. Sutton, Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-33491-2_14

Before drawing similarities, we must recognize three fundamental differences between Hong Kong and Cyprus. The first is their respective raisons d’etre. In Cyprus, strategy trumped economy. The government policy towards Cyprus’s economy was one indeed of ‘benign neglect’.2 Although never fully developed, Cyprus was considered to be essential in the Cold War, if only because occupying the island meant that the Soviets could not.

Trade, however, was the justification for colonial Hong Kong.3 While there were some geostrategic advantages to Hong Kong while the Cold War remained cold, Grantham frequently invoked the argument that without trade the colony was worthless and its defence, development, and future were futile. However, given both the real and perceived threats, this prioritization made policy-making difficult, particularly when the Colonial Office and the rest of Whitehall considered Hong Kong more in terms of a Cold War fortress against the spread of Chinese communism and Soviet influence in Southeast Asia.

The second important difference between the two colonies was the degree of local self-government. The lack of demand from the Hong Kong public for greater democratic development (in part because the British administration was in fact meeting their expectations) meant there was little resistance to Grantham’s defeat of the Young Plan.4 Instead, Grantham’s ‘benevolent autocracy’, which effectively banned ‘cultural representations through politics for all but the Westernized economic elite appointed to serve as legislators (called Unofficials) on the budgetarily castrated Legislative Council’, lasted until 1981.5

In Cyprus, while there was little support for self-government outside AKEL (and perhaps some Turkish-Cypriots), there was a significant demand in the majority Greek-Cypriot population for self-determination and thereby enosis. However, constitutional advancement remained critical to Britain’s colonial strategy for Cyprus. British policy-makers saw the reinstatement of municipal elections in March 1943 and the consultative assembly in 1947 as steps towards a new constitution and local self-government, in accordance with the wider aim of guiding the colonies to responsible self-government.6

Finally, while Hong Kong and Cyprus were both coveted by external powers, the former was unique in the British Empire because the New Territories (over 90 per cent of the colony’s landmass) were leased from and therefore set to return to China by 1997. Moreover, the ROC and then the PRC desired the return of the entire colony, not just the leased territories.7

With these three differences in mind, there were nevertheless important consistencies in British policy in Hong Kong and Cyprus, which demonstrated the imperial nature of the Cold War and how it was fought on the ground.

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