HONG Kong was originally conceived as a safe haven for British merchants trading on the China coast. It soon became a refuge for criminals and politicians including the founders of three Asian republics: Dr Sun Yat-sen, Emilio Aguinaldo and Ho Chi Minh. Dr Sun and Aguinaldo lived quite openly under their own names; but Ho Chi Minh used the pseudonym Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot) when hiding out in darkest Kowloon City with his girlfriend Li Sam. He did not call himself Ho Chi Minh (He Who Enlightens) until the early 40s. His presence was discovered after Shanghai Special Branch arrested the spy master Hilaire Noulens the head of Comintern Far Eastern Bureau. At the time, Noulens controlled the famous Communist spy Richard Sorge as well as Ho Chi Minh, who was in charge of the Comintern Southern Bureau. At the instigation of the French, Ho Chi Minh was arrested in June 1931, by the Hong Kong Police. The French regarded him as a dangerous revolutionary and put pressure on the British to deport him to French Indochina where he would certainly have been executed. His case was taken up by International Red Help, a Soviet front organisation. For more than 18 months he fought extradition aided by the British lawyer-politician Sir Stafford Cripps. In spite of having Sir Stafford as his attorney, Ho Chi Minh won his case when it came before the Privy Council, and he was smuggled out of the colony on the night of January 26 1933. Sir Stafford later became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Attlee Government. He was known for his prodigious intellect. ''He has a great mind, until he makes it up.'' wrote Margot Asquith. While Sir Stafford was destroying the British economy Uncle Ho was building the Vietnamese nation. The French, who had demanded Ho Chi Minh's arrest and extradition refused to pay the costs of the court case. As usual it was left to the poor old Hong Kong taxpayer to foot the bill.