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Home arrow Political science arrow Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong: A Conflict of Empires

The Deportation of Aliens Ordinance

Perhaps the most direct way ‘to deal with’ the presence of Chinese communists was population control. Furthermore, for the protection of British imperial interests, especially given Hong Kong’s geographic context, demographic history, and economic purpose, a small and stable population was critical. Beginning in 1948, however, Hong Kong faced an immigration emergency. And while Hong Kong, with its approximately 400 square miles of land, was no stranger to population problems, the Cold War context in which this one occurred made it particularly challenging.

During the Japanese occupation, the Hong Kong population had dramatically decreased (because of both voluntary and forced emigration) to 550,000. By 1946, with post-war reconstruction still incomplete, the Hong Kong population had risen to its pre-war level of 1.6 million. The subsequent turmoil in East Asia and especially in China led to a refugee crisis.20 By 1947, the population had risen by another 200,000.21

MacDougall, the colonial secretary, compared the provision of social amenities in Hong Kong to conducting ‘a course in adult education in St. Pancras Station’. Moreover, the colony’s problems of overcrowding, inadequate food supply, crime, smuggling, currency speculation, and political malcontents, while commonplace, were made intolerable for British authorities by the potential threat of the CCP and its effective propaganda machine. This prompted some in the Colonial Office, like Norman L. Mayle, the head of the Eastern B Department (which was responsible for Hong Kong as well as Brunei, Sarawak, and North Borneo), to advocate at least the consideration of immigration control.22

Grantham, however, was firmly against it. The governor initially believed that the surge in immigration was temporary and that the population would decrease once the situation in China calmed down.23 Much more importantly, however, Grantham considered immigration control to be economically disruptive, especially as Hong Kong consumed and produced less than 3 per cent of its HK$300 million monthly trade. As Grantham put it to Creech Jones:

Immigration control, registration of the population, compulsory military service and many of the elementary security measures which are in force in most states today would, in all intents and purposes, kill our trade, in order to make the defence of its corpse more effective.24

Protecting Hong Kong’s economy was Grantham’s bottom line, against which policy decisions were first and foremost judged.

While agreeing that ‘[p]olicy must take account of the fact that Hong Kong was valuable to us mainly as a centre of trade’, the Cabinet did not agree with Grantham’s dire predictions.25 As Sir William Slim, the chief of the imperial general staff, argued, Hong Kong’s ‘trade [was] dead in [1945]. But [it is] about as flourishing as any part of [British] trade’.26 Confident in the absolute resilience of Hong Kong’s economy and fearing the spread of communist violence from the insurgencies in Burma, Malaya, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies, Whitehall thus pushed Grantham to introduce stricter population control.

Admitting that the ‘[potentialities of illegal Communist activities’ in Hong Kong grew as a ‘constant source of anxiety’, Grantham acquiesced. In August 1948, he put strict visa restrictions on Chinese travellers from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, because both territories were experiencing communist-nationalist revolutions. His government also liaised with Malaya and Siam regarding the ‘movements of known or suspected Communists’.27 In October, Grantham amended the Deportation of Aliens ordinance ‘to make it easier to expel certain undesirables and disturbers of the peace’. The amendments cut the amount of required paperwork as well as the oversight process to reduce delay in deportation proceedings. The amendments also granted the courts the power to deport any offender who did not have one year’s residency in the colony before committing a crime. Finally, there was an appeals process but through the governor-in-council.28

One month later, Grantham informed Creech Jones that the Deportation of Aliens Ordinance had been invoked to expel five prominent communists.29 Their crime was ‘abusing the asylum of this Colony by activities directed against the established Government of China to the detriment of the relations existing between Hong Kong and China’. These were the first deportations since the end of the war.30

Grantham was steadfast in his resistance to London’s pressure for stricter immigration policies, which he believed was tantamount to economic suicide. However, as he slowly yielded ground—from the visa restrictions on travellers from Malaya in August 1948 to the wiring of the Hong Kong- Chinese border ten months later (see Chap. 11)—Grantham’s new powers and laws were aimed primarily against the CCP. Hong Kong’s ‘problem of people’ was a colonial administrative challenge as well as a Cold War battleground.31

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