Chris Patten questions UK’s ‘sense of honour’ over Hong Kong’s future

Final colonial governor criticises British failure to press China on promises made in 1984 pact

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 9:47pm

Hong Kong’s last colonial governor has lambasted the UK for turning its back on the city and ‘selling its honour’ in exchange for trade deals with Beijing.

Chris Patten also said London was failing to “stand up for Hong Kong” by not upholding the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the commitment guaranteeing various freedoms under “one country, two systems” until 2047.

“I wonder what’s happened to our sense of honour and our sense of responsibility, particularly in Britain,” Patten said on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

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He said he got no sense that the UK government was “standing over” the promises and obligations it made.

“It’s all for derisory and ludicrous reasons,” Patten said. “The argument that the only way you’re going to do trade with China is by kowtowing to China on political issues is drivel.”

Observers claim the freedoms enjoyed in the city have been undermined over the past two years, with – among other things – the disappearances of five local booksellers who later surfaced on the mainland, and Beijing’s role in kicking two radical lawmakers from the Legislative Council.

Laying out Britain’s failings, Patten said he was anxious not to fail the numerous pro-democracy activists who had fought in recent years against the erosion of freedoms in the city.

“I feel very strongly that we let down the parents of this generation of democracy activists,” Patten said. “I think it would be a tragedy if we let down these kids as well.”

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Anson Chan Fang On-sang, the former chief secretary, who also appeared on Newsnight, agreed.

“Unfortunately the rest of the world, particularly Britain, would rather pretend not to see what is going on,” Chan said. “And I am afraid that if they continue to ignore the steady erosion, by the time they wake up to the fact, ‘one country, two systems’ will exist only in name. It will be too late.”

Patten challenged Britain to prove Chan wrong and make clear it was not afraid to stand up for Hong Kong.

Britain’s Foreign Office told the BBC: “‘One country, two systems’ continues to be the best arrangement for Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity, as it has been for nearly 20 years.”