Towards the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 as Communist forces advanced southwards, aircraft of the Nationalist government’s two main airlines took refuge at Kai Tak airfield in the then British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. There followed a three-year struggle for control of the aircraft on the ground, in the courts and among ministers and diplomats on three continents.
In this seminar Malcolm Merry, author of the recently published Grounded at Kai Tak, Chinese Aircraft Impounded in Hong Kong 1949-1952 (HKUP), will outline the story of the struggle. It is a saga of colourful characters, political intrigue, legal manoeuverings and unexpected turns which strained the UK’s relations with the authorities in the US, Hong Kong and China. The British government insisted that ownership of the planes was purely a question of law but encountered resistance from the colony’s governor, its judges, the Americans and the new regime in China. The fate of the planes became entangled with international post-war tensions and domestic American politics which inevitably meant that the struggle was far more than a simple legal contest.