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Friday, June 30, 2006

U.K. 'planned for nuclear strike on China'

LONDON, June 30 (UPI) -- Britain planned for a nuclear retaliation should China invade its then-colony of Hong Kong, confidential papers released Friday reveal.

In 1961, London felt the only alternative to abandoning the colony entirely would be nuclear strikes against the Chinese aggressor by the United States, documents published by the National Archives indicate.

The idea is discussed in a series of letters between 1957 and 1961, when the government was becoming increasingly anxious about Beijing's intentions towards the British outpost.

Then Defense Minister Harold Watkinson wrote to the foreign secretary and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, saying: "Our object is to encourage the Chinese to believe than an attack on Hong Kong would involve U.S. nuclear retaliation."

Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Hume wrote to Watkinson and Macmillan in February 1961: "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 called for an "informal exchange of views" with U.S. officials over the possibility of nuclear strikes.

The idea was discussed by British and U.S. officials during secret meetings in Hawaii, but was apparently shelved after Admiral Harry Felt, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time, expressed concerns.

No other response from the United States -- then the only country capable of using nuclear weapons -- was included in the National Archives file.

Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, having held it since 1842.
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