Beijing cadres posted in what was then British Hong Kong made links with triad societies throughout the twilight years of the colony, and London as well as the colonial authorities were fully aware of it.

A 1992 file on Hong Kong’s security situation declassified last month by the UK National Archives noted that the Communist Party sought to establish contact with triad leaders in order to exercise influence.

The internal memo speculated that Hong Kong’s rule of law could come under threat as triads vied to muscle their way into local politics to give them more sway in the city.

But the memo also added that Beijing’s interactions with local triads were part of broader efforts to pave way for post-1997 governance. It saw no intention on Beijing’s part to upset the stability of the city when it was still under the British rule.

No names of Beijing cadres tasked with the job or of triad leaders involved were disclosed in the document.

London and Beijing signed a joint declaration in 1984 for the 1997 transfer of the colony’s sovereignty.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily cited retired superintendents of Hong Kong’s Organized Crime and Triad Bureau as saying that Beijing cadres and their middlemen met with triad leaders of different and even feuding factions. This led, in the run-up to the handover, to some powerful triad figures switching loyalty from the Kuomintang or foreign forces to Beijing, seemingly due to the possibility of gaining post-handover political leverage with Beijing’s help.

The source added that Beijing’s quid pro quo with triads included privileges, protection of their interests as well as appointing them to political advisory bodies on the mainland, in exchange for their assurances not to stoke tension or trouble during and after the city’s handover period.

After the 1984 signing of the Joint Declaration, Communist Party chief Deng Xiaoping reportedly dispatched officials from the Hong Kong office of the Xinhua News Agency, Beijing’s de-facto consulate in the colony, to talk to triad leaders and offer them amnesty.

In 1993, Tao Siju, then a deputy public security minister, famously told reporters in an interview that some triad members in Hong Kong “could be patriots as well.”

It is understood that London and its colonial officials never interfered with Beijing’s efforts, as an uneventful transfer and a stable society would also be in the best interest of London and its continued, substantial business presence in the post-handover Hong Kong.

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