“Unjust means irredeemably corrupt all ends no matter how noble”-Arthur Koestler
In the early 19th century,Hong Kong was a tiny fishing village.Three men,all from Scotland, were largely responsible for the transformation of this backwater into one of the largest,and most dynamic cities of the 20th and 21st century.
After the breakup of the monopoly of the British East India Company in 1813.Two of these men Dr William Jardine and Sir James Matheson started a trading company that shipped goods from India to China.The goods that they traded in, were tea,textiles and opium.It was a triangular trading route.The first part of which, was textiles that were shipped from England to India.This first part of the triangle was not so profitable,and was possible,only because of,slavery, the British Empire’s hold over India, and taxes that were levied on their cotton and silk industry.The second part of the triangle made up for any lack of profit on the first voyage.This was opium.Opium trade was of vital importance to British Imperialism at this time.It turned a trade deficit with China into a large surplus.
Before the first opium war,most of these shipments were sold to Chinese drug smugglers from depot ships anchored off the coast of Canton.After they were expelled from there,they established themselves on a rugged island,infested with mosquitos and consequently malaria.It’s only attribute seemed to be that it had a deep harbour,but with the help of opium this sleepy village became Hong Kong.The third side of this triangle was the tea.Porcelain tea cups,and tea pots were added acting as ballast on the bottom of the ships.This completed the triangle,shipping the cargo of tea back to England.
According to Sir William the opium trade was “the safest and most gentleman like speculation I am aware of”. His wealth was sufficient to buy himself a seat in the house of commons in the early 1840’s.He went on to become a governor of the Bank of England,chairman of the great P&O; shipping line and the second largest landowner in Britain.His partner James Matheson blamed the Chinese dislike for “free trade”and referred to their”marvellous degree of imbecility and avarice,conceit and obstinacy”.The Chinese name for Jardine was “iron-headed old rat”
The third Scotsman in this story is about Sir Thomas Sutherland,born in Aberdeen in 1834.At the age of 18 he went to work for the P&O; shipping line in China where he was involved in the construction of the Hong Kong docks.He soon realised the need for a trade bank and in March 1865 he opened the Hong Kong Bank.A month later he opened a bank in Shanghai.The bank became the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation better known as HSBC.Most of this business was to service and finance the lucrative opium trade.
Two years later HSBC came under the control of the Hong Kong legislative council,of which Sutherland was a member and was granted special ordnance by the British Government.
Sutherland returned to England where he became chairman of the P&O; shipping line.He became a member of parliament and was knighted in 1891.
In 1992 HSBC aquired Midland Bank and on December 31, 1999, HSBC “consummated” its acquisition of Republic New York Corporation,a privately owned bank, including its scandal-ridden securities unit, the subject of litigation for its involvement in the scandal of Martin Armstrong / Princeton Economics. Shortly before the sale of this bank the owner Edmond Safra was murdered at his home in Monaco,a haven for scores of nouveaux riches Russians, including organised crime leaders. The year before he died his bank made a report to the FBI that triggered an investigation into Russian money laundering by American banks.
Although the principality of Monaco has been accused in recent years of turning a blind eye to white-collar crime ,especially money- laundering, the country has almost no violent crime.
HSBC is now the largest corporation in the world in terms of assets $1.7 trillion,bigger even than Citigroup who only have $1.6 trillion.The HSBC flag,the red hexagon is derived from the Scottish Flag which is the angular cross that the patron saint of Scotland,St.Andrew,was crucified upon.
Walking down 125th st I just can’t help wondering where all these banks get all this money from.They seem to be the only one’s able to afford the rents on those prime corner store locations.Further downtown,on the corner of 103rd and Broadway,I saw a Starbucks had closed down,the rent too expensive for this multi- national.There was some very active reconstruction going on inside.By the end of the month the red angular cross of St Andrew appeared.