The British created their empire in the 16th Century when they gained dominance over Spain through their pirate navy attacking and robbing what Spain had built in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. After the North American colonies they went after India in the 18th Century, and then during the 19th Century they finished the job with conquests in Africa, the Middle East, and the promotion of opium in China. They also got Singapore so they could protect their interests in Malaya. In fact Hong Kong Island was given to them by a reluctant Chinese government (whom they beat up on in the Opium Wars) so they could direct that trade from that island.
But it was still based on racism and the exploitation of peoples.