The first Opium war was initiated by the then Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, so as to obtain full compensation for destroyed Opium which was grown in British controlled India but which was being illegally exported to China. As a result of such gun boat diplomacy, China was forced to open five ports to foreign merchants and give territorial concession to Hong Kong. The rest, as they say, is history. There were of course other British politicians of the day like William Gladstone who denounced Lord Palmerston’s willingness to protect this infamous contraband traffic. Palmerston was clearly protecting the right of British companies to export such goods while China wanted the right to stop them becoming the social menace they subsequently became in Chinese society. One could question, where was the concern then for the human rights of the ordinary Chinese people?
One may also ask, why should the Communists of today in China still be concerned by this great losing of face for the Qing dynasty? Well, nationalism is still a very strongly held sentiment in China and the Communist party of China have, since its early beginnings, harnessed this sense well in defence of its country.
I also suspect an apology would be the best way to open up the Chinese market in a much bigger way that the trade delegation thats just passed through Beijing from the UK.