The CCP in Hong Kong

Chinese politics posed the second obstacle for Grantham’s autonomy and ‘benevolent autocracy’. Given its open border with mainland China and official neutrality in the civil war, Hong Kong had become a place of refuge for those fleeing the chaos and, in some cases, persecution in KMT-controlled southern China. As such, there was a concentration of anti-KMT sentiment in Hong Kong, which the CCP was effective in manipulating. That Hong Kong was ‘a base not only of propaganda but of subversive activities against China’ was a constant concern for Chiang’s regime.9

As such, Grantham was under pressure not only from London but also Nanking to implement stricter laws against the CCP. The KMT repeatedly requested the Hong Kong government’s cooperation in combatting ‘ banditry’ (a label with a long history in China, used especially by the KMT to normalize and moralize the suppression of communists).10 And despite its ‘neutrality’, Hong Kong authorities frequently allowed the KMT’s military, customs agents, and police to transport personnel and weapons via Hong Kong’s superior infrastructure as well as wounded KMT soldiers to be treated at Kowloon Hospital.11 However, Grantham refused other requests, especially to extradite communists and other anti- KMT party leaders, so long as ‘they behaved themselves in Hong Kong’.12

Grantham sat at the centre of an extensive security network. He received regular reports from the Hong Kong Police Special Branch, his political adviser, British consulates and colonial governments in East Asia, the British military, the commissioner-general for Southeast Asia, and various branches of the British security services, including his defence security officer (an MI5 liaison officer).13 These sources all concurred in the second half of 1948 that the ‘Communist policy in Hong Kong has been and remains one of not coming into conflict with authority’. Grantham interpreted this as a policy of expediency, particularly as Hong Kong offered ‘considerable advantages as a contact point and transit centre for Communists in China and South East Asia’. The CCP enjoyed in Hong Kong freedoms of expression and of publication, easy access to China, quality international communications, and a relatively free economic market (compared to that of China). One of the most important advantages which Hong Kong offered the communists, according to Grantham, was the colony’s numerous headquarters of the various anti-KMT political parties, particularly those of the Democratic League and the KMT Revolutionary Committee. Thus, the CCP in Hong Kong was determined to avoid giving the Hong Kong government any excuse to take action against them.14

While there was ‘definite evidence of Communist activities in Hong Kong’ and while recognizing that communism was ‘a much greater menace to the British Empire as a whole’, Grantham argued that there was nevertheless nothing to justify suppressive measures in his colony. He noted that such action would also have the adverse effect of driving the CCP underground as well as rendering ‘uncontrollable’ the KMT, which he maintained was ‘the chief political enemy of Hong Kong’. The colonial government’s policy was thus ‘one of watchful toleration of Communists, treating them ostensibly on exactly the same footing as any other political group’.15

This made many in London nervous, prompting a short but pointed debate in the House of Commons on 24 November 1948. During the exchange, Creech Jones intimated that the Hong Kong government was monitoring Chinese communists there.16 The Colonial Office was quick to remind the secretary of state that with the possibility of a communist regime in China, ‘it is not in our interest at this stage to advertise unnecessarily the measures which Hong Kong is in fact taking against Communists’.17

Perhaps the combination of such discreetness and Grantham’s habit of manipulating information he sent to London explains why the historiography has generally assumed British neutrality in the colony. Nevertheless, beginning in late 1948, in addition to deportations, police raids, and increasing surveillance, the Hong Kong government went on the offensive in the cultural Cold War, enacting several laws explicitly aimed against the CCP’s growing influence in the colony’s immigration, trades union movement, education, and dissident political parties.18 As a Colonial Office note put it in unashamedly self-contradicting terms, ‘[w]hile not abandoning the traditional policy of non-interference and neutrality in the political affairs of China’, the Hong Kong government took ‘a number of steps to curb the infiltration of the Chinese Communists into the Colony and to deal with the difficulties and dangers which might arise from their activities’.19

 
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