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The British Midnight Express

September 13, 2019

In May 1997 the author listed his company on the London Stock Exchange. Over the ensuing twenty-two years, considerable time has been spent in former British colonies and in London, among many other far more unusual places. It was believed that the London financial markets would have a better understanding of the international nature of the company’s oil assets. There was a point in time when Britania ruled the waves. Therefore, the British people understand worldwide geography better than most anyone. 

The author had a business relationship in Hong Kong, a British colony from 1898, that was impacted shortly after the company’s move to London. On midnight July 1, 1997, the United Kingdom transferred the sovereignty of the colony of Hong Kong to China. There was considerable pomp and circumstance surrounding the “handover” as it was called.

Some fifty years prior to that time, the United Kingdom had another colonial “handover” event.  It was referred to as “Freedom at Midnight,” when on midnight August 15, 1947, India was granted independence by the United Kingdom. Pakistan emerged as a separate Islamic nation when the former India was partitioned. The resultant population exchange evolved into violence and death to 600,000 people in an emotionally charged exchange of 14 million between the two countries. For the past twenty-six years, the author has had a close business relationship in India.

Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, is shown below with Lady Mountbatten and Mahatma Gandhi. He oversaw the handover of India and formation of Pakistan and remained as first Governor-General of the independent India for ten months.

One might be puzzled as to the thematic connectivity of these events in the context of the world of today. At the time my company headquarters were moved to London, there was considerable discussion by the UK Labor Government regarding the adoption of the Euro currency to replace the British Pound as the currency of the realm. It was the author’s view that the disparate cultures of the members of the European Union did not lend themselves to a common currency though membership in the EU did facilitate trade. My personal opinion was London should be the “Hong Kong” of Europe-free trade but keep the proceeds in your own currency which turned out to be the result. The connectivity of these three settings is that everything is upside down at this moment.

For the past several months, Hong Kong has tilted to the point of being out of control due to massive protests which began in response to a legislative proposal that could have led to carte blanche deportation of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. China has massed troops in nearby Shenzen but it is unclear whether they will move them in to Hong Kong as a “Tiananmen Square” re-occurrence would not set a good example in Emperor Xi’s manifest destiny policy. Of equal importance, is the fact that Hong Kong is vital to the economy of China.

Following Indian Prime Minister Modi’s re-election for another five-year term, it has been clear from his comments and actions that he intends to re-shape India in the form he thinks is appropriate. His comments have focused on eliminating corruption and improving the lives of the lower economic levels.  His actions have shown a harder side toward India’s Muslim majority state of Kashmir. Pulling Kashmir back into the mothership fold has been a long-term dream of the nationalist Hindu backed government of Modi.  It may be happening as mass arrests of Kashmiri leaders have been carried out. 

Lastly, all is not well in the former mother ship of Britain which may be getting smaller and becoming England. Most are familiar with the concept of Brexit that has been underway for some three years and may come to a head on October 31. Simply stated a slim majority of the UK population voted to leave the European Union and the Tory-led Government has been struggling to make a deal with the EU over the ensuing period of time. Strangely, the British may have taken a page from the American revolution about foreign involvement in one’s affairs.

In the final analysis, a “Hard Brexit” might result in the devolution of Scotland and Northern Ireland which would cause the former “Great Britain” or “Britain” to just be “Merry England” occupied by jolly figures like the “old and golden days” of the past. Strangely, the handover of India was resisted by a former Tory PM, Winston Churchill. On the other hand, the image below of the current Tory PM Boris Johnson below in maharaja Indian headgear illustrates that he is a “leaver” from the European Union much like India was from the United Kingdom. Will Boris or “Bojo” have a “Freedom at Midnight” event on the current withdrawal date of Halloween?

The common theme in India and Hong Kong is the presence of police and military to maintain order. There have been many dire forecasts of a chaotic “Hard Brexit” impact on the availability of basic essentials such as food and medicine for the people of the UK.  It is likely these predictions are overstated and do not reflect the “stiff upper lip” of the British people and order will be maintained without the requirement of introducing a police state.  On the other hand, Brexit will create uncharted waters for the immediate future. 

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