TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM
Trade Wars, Peace Deals and Imperial Occupation
15 March 2006
"..In this shrinking global market, the high value ‘stock in trade’ is
“peace and human rights”. It has of course, multiple meanings; but one
of it is that, it is a ruthless industry. Hence, prior to any “new”
peace deals, the Tamils must refuse to fall into the trap in which they
were almost entrapped in previous negotiations. One would fervently pray
that, this time round, the Tamil Peace Secretariat will clearly
articulate the non-negotiable..."
Hong Kong was occupied by the British in 1841. The 99 year
British lease on Hong Kong, as we all know, expired in July 1997. Hong Kong
became Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. The Red China promised that
it would apply the formula of “One country, two systems” on Hong Kong and
thereby, China’s Socialist economic system will not be imposed. For the next
fifty years (until 2047) a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign
and defence affairs will be enjoyed by Hong Kong.
The answer to the question however, still lies buried as to how England first
gained its control over this beautiful peninsula?Surprisingly, this search first
leads us to Baghdad.
Saleh Sassoon, a wealthy banker, attained a highly influential position as
“court Jew” to Ahmed Pasha, the governor of Baghdad. Ahmed was overthrown in
1829 due to corruption and the Sassoon family fled to Bombay, India. Bombay was
of course, on the trade route not only to the interior India but most
strategically to the Far East. Owing to his high connections, the British
granted Sassoon “monopoly rights” to manufacture silk, and cotton goods. In
addition to that, another lucrative and secretive deal was struck. Sassoon was
given monopoly rights to distribute Opium in port cities. For the shrewd
Sassoon, the deal was not to be complete until he had acquired the exclusive
“right to sell” the addictive drug to the entire Chinese nation!
The Jewish Encyclopaedia (1905) reveals that Sassoon’s opium trade successfully
expanded into China and Japan. His eight sons were put in charge of various
opium exchanges in China. The Sassoon sons were craftily pushing this
mind-altering drug in Canton. 1830-1831 alone 18,956 chests of opium were
trafficked earning millions. Part of the profits went to Queen Victoria and to
the British Imperial government. In order to gain more profit, in 1836 the trade
quota was increased. This year over 30,000 chests were sold in coastal cities.
In 1839 however, the Manchu Emperor, having seen the effects of addiction
in society, ordered for this trade to be halted immediately. He appointed Lin
Tse-hsu as the Commissioner of Canton. Lin led a campaign against opium. He
seized 2,000 chests of Sassoon’s ‘precious cargo’ and threw it into the river.
This enraged David Sassoon (Saleh’s son) and he managed to convince the British
government, in light of the profit, to retaliate. As a result the Opium Wars
began. The Chinese, proved no match for the British forces, because the Chinese
army was already decimated by rampant opium addiction! Hence the war ended by
signing “The Treaty of Nanking” in 1839.The ‘peace treaty’ included the
1) Full legislation of the opium trade in China
2) Compensation from the opium stockpiles confiscated by Lin of 2 million
3) Territorial sovereignty for the British Crown over several off-shore
In response to such lucrative treaty the British Prime Minister
Palmerston wrote to the Crown Commissioner Capt. Charles Elliott complaining
that the treaty did not go far enough. “We must demand the admission of opium
into interior China” he wrote, “as an article of lawful commerce and increase
indemnity payments and British access to several additional Chinese ports.”
Prime Minister Palmerston declared that all of interior China must be open for
opium traffic. The Manchus resisted such a move. The Second Opium War was fought
1858 – 1860. The British suffered a defeat at the Taku Forts in June 1859. An
enraged Palmerston was reported as saying: “We shall teach such a lesson to
these perfidious hordes that the name of Europe will hereafter be a passport of
Peiking was besieged by the British in October 1859. The British Commander, Lord
Elgin ordered the temples and other sacred shrines in the city to be burned to
the ground. The message of such action was to show the British utter contempt
for the Chinese.
On October 25, 1860 a “New Peace Treaty” was signed. The Sassoons struck the
best deal on behalf of the British! In 1860 alone the Sassoons imported 58,681
chests of opium. The sales sky rocketed by 1880 to 105,508 chests making the
Sassoons the richest Jews in the world.
Owing to thriving business deals the Hong Kong was given to England (1898) as a
Solomon Sassoon moved to Hong Kong and ran the family empire until his demise in
1894.The Sassoons were now licensing opium dens [!] in each British occupied
territory which included large sections of Amoy, Canton, Foochow, Ningpo, and
Shanghai. The Sassoon Company thrived in their business empire while the opium
trade brought death and destruction to millions in Asia. The British however,
were equally careful to include a “safety clause” in their contracts with the
Sassoon business Empire: Opium would not be allowed to be imported into Europe.
Franklin D Roosevelt’s fortune was inherited from his maternal grandfather
Warren Delano. It was their merchant fleet (Russell & Co - 1830) which carried
the precious cargo of Sassoon to China and returned with tea. In 1851, Delano’s
daughter Sara married James Roosevelt, the father of Franklin D Roosevelt. On
both sides of the ‘pond’ Sassoons’ source of vast wealth was never discussed.
The British monarchy honoured them with knighthood.
The perceptive reader by now would have seen through the underlying meaning of
the text of the Colonial history of Hong Kong and would have understood the
nuances that translate in to the current geo-political climate. All would agree
that it is indeed hilarious to hear Mr George W lecturing to China on human
rights during his recent visit, while his eye is firmly fixed on trade and
I have reflected on this history at the wake of the Chinese Premier’s state
visit to Britain. Yet again, all this pomp and circumstance is owing to the
profitable change in trade winds. The voices of the protesters for human rights
from Tibet to Tiananmen Square were heard (but not listened to) loud and clear
at Buckingham Palace.
The Eelam Tamils however, would have quickly pencilled several similarities of
historical experiences. Tamil Eelam is a strategic gate way to South Asia, the
Middle East and even Africa. Hence it goes with out saying, that the hackneyed
“peace deals” either from the Sinhalas or from any interlocution agents [the
West or the ‘emerging regional power’] would not fail to have any axes to grind.
That is to say, they will have their eyes on natural and human resources in
addition to other geo-political interests. There are plenty of “Sassoons” around
even within the Tamil community.
The ONLY difference here however, would be that the Tamil leader could not be
bought over with fancy treaties! If the love of money, wine, women and fame are
the opiate of all addiction, then any divisive Power, playing that filthy game
is bound to fail. The recent Tamil emancipation history unmasks that truth.
In this shrinking global market, the high value ‘stock in trade’ is “peace and
human rights”. It has of course, multiple meanings; but one of it is that, it is
a ruthless industry. Hence, prior to any “new” peace deals, the Tamils must
refuse to fall into the trap in which they were almost entrapped in previous
negotiations. One would fervently pray that, this time round, the Tamil Peace
Secretariat will clearly articulate the non-negotiable.