China sparked fury when it announced in May it would impose a national security law on the region, with many fearing it could spell the end of Hong Kong’s unique democratic freedom. Beijing submitted a draft resolution for a law to make it a criminal act for Hong Kong to break away from the country, undermine the authority of the central government, use violence or intimidation and allow activities by foreign forces. Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the Qing Empire ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842, but was expanded in 1860 after the Second Opium War and again further in 1898 when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the area.
The region was handed back to China from British control at the end of this, in 1997, but under a unique agreement, a mini-constitution called the Basic Law which is supposed to protect certain freedoms for Hong Kong, including freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights.
But, the territory could have lost its democracy decades ago if Roosevelt got his way.
On December 25, 1941, in a day dubbed “Black Christmas,” the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Young, surrendered to Imperial Japan.
The surrender occurred after 18 days of fierce fighting against the overwhelming Japanese forces that had invaded the territory as part of their World War 2 campaign which saw Japan attack almost all of its Asian neighbours, ally itself with Nazi Germany and launch a horrifying surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor.
Japan invaded Hong Kong during World War 2
British troops heading for the Battle of Hong Kong
Throughout the Imperial Japanese occupation, Hong Kong was ruled under martial law as an occupied territory.
Led by General Rensuke Isogai, the Japanese established their administrative centre and military headquarters at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon.
In addition to Governor Mark Young, 7,000 British soldiers and civilians were kept in prisoner-of-war or internment camps, where famine, malnourishment and sickness were pervasive.
In January 1942, the Guangdong people’s anti-Japanese East River guerrillas were established to reinforce anti-Japanese forces in China and one of their most significant contributions to the Allies was their rescue of American pilots who parachuted into Kowloon.
In the wake of the British retreat, the guerrillas picked up abandoned weapons and established bases in the New Territories marking a fortified resistance against the Japanese forces in Hong Kong.
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Japanese troops invaded Hong Kong
United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) units based in China then attacked the Hong Kong area from October 1942 to target Japanese cargo ships which had been reported by Chinese guerrillas and by 1945 the city was routinely raided by the US.
The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong ended in 1945 after its surrender on August 15, 1945, and the territory was handed over by the Imperial Japanese Army to the Royal Navy on August 30, 1945.
But, in the aftermath of the Japanese surrender, it was unclear whether the United Kingdom or the Republic of China would assume sovereignty of the territory.
Roosevelt tried to pressure Churchill to return the island to China as a concession for its support in the war.
But the former Prime Minister refused and the British moved quickly to regain control of Hong Kong.
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USAF routinely bombed Hong Kong
Roosevet wanted to hand back control to China
As soon as he heard word of the Japanese surrender, Franklin Gimson, Hong Kong’s colonial secretary, left his prison camp and declared himself the territory’s acting governor.
On August 30, 1945, British Rear Admiral Sir Cecil Halliday Jepson Harcourt sailed into Hong Kong on board the cruiser HMS Swiftsure to re-establish the British control over the colony.
A government office was set up at the Former French Mission Building in Victoria on September 1, 1945, and 15 days later, Rear Admiral Harcourt formally accepted Japan’s surrender.
By 1949, the People’s Liberation Army had taken over China and the West was concerned that the Communist Party would move to take over Hong Kong as the end of the 99-year lease edged closer.
Japan surrendered Hong Kong in 1945
Margaret Thatcher penned a deal with Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang
On December 19, 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which Britain agreed to return not only the New Territories but also Kowloon and British Hong Kong itself when the lease term expired.
Under the declaration’s terms, Hong Kong would become a special administrative region under the People’s Republic of China, and it was expected to enjoy a high degree of autonomy outside of foreign and defence affairs.
For a period of 50 years after the end of the lease, Hong Kong would remain a free port with a separate customs territory and sustain markets for free exchange.
On July 1, 1997, the lease ended and Britain transferred control of British Hong Kong and the surrounding territories to the People’s Republic of China.
The 50-year lease will end in 2047.