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01/07/2006 | Britain contemplated China nuclear attack

Reuters Staff

Britain discussed raising the threat of U.S. nuclear retaliation to dissuade China from attacking its Hong Kong colony at the height of the Cold War, previously secret papers revealed on Friday.

 

Dismissing Hong Kong as strategically irrelevant, highly vulnerable and indefensible by conventional means, the British government nevertheless decided that it did have a vital symbolic role as the country's sole frontier with the Communist world.

"For political reasons we have no choice but to stay there at present," cabinet secretary Norman Brook wrote to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in July 1959.

"Though at any time the Chinese could make conditions impossible by cutting off food and water supplies and strangling the trade as to make our presence virtually untenable," he added.

Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 after 155 years as a British colony.

Developing the argument in 1961, foreign secretary and Macmillan's successor Alec Douglas Home broached the delicate issue of both approaching the Americans to act if necessary and at the same time making the Chinese aware.

"It must be fully obvious to the Americans that Hong Kong is indefensible by conventional means and that in the event of a Chinese attack, nuclear strikes against China would be the only alternative to complete abandonment of the Colony," he wrote in a letter marked "top secret."

"In these circumstances it is perhaps not so much formal staff talks with the Americans that we need so much as an informal exchange of views involving a discussion of the use of nuclear strikes," he added.

However, he also noted the delicate balance of waving the nuclear deterrent at the Chinese while at the same time not provoking them.

"While we should encourage the Chinese to believe that an attack on Hong Kong would involve nuclear retaliation, we must avoid anything that would allow the Chinese to claim that the Colony is a military outpost of the Unites States," he added.

The records of the Prime Minister's office between 1957 to 1961 were among a batch of papers released by the National Archive.

"Our object is to encourage the Chinese to believe that an attack on Hong Kong would involve U.S. nuclear retaliation," wrote Minister of Defense Harold Watkinson.

My Way (Estados Unidos)

 



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