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Hong Kong localism and independence

China cannot ‘choke off’ Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations, says former governor Chris Patten

Patten says he is still hopeful Hongkongers will get democracy under Chinese rule, if change comes from within China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 10:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 11:00pm

China cannot “choke off” Hong Kong’s aspiration to be more democratic, and that aspiration can still be realised if change comes from within China, according to the city’s last colonial governor.

Chris Patten, speaking to the Post on Wednesday, said he still believed Hongkongers would enjoy democracy in the future, under the Chinese sovereignty.

“[Late Chinese leader] Deng Xiaoping said people in Hong Kong were perfectly capable of running their own house, which was true,” he said, saying Hongkongers’ rights were laid down as promises in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984.

Patten, who ran the then British colony from 1992 to 1997, said Chinese officials over the years talked much about ‘one country two systems’. But he said he doubted they understood what it really means.

“It means to continue to develop Hong Kong’s freedom within the law,” he said. “And inevitably it means you can’t simply choke off Hong Kong’s aspiration and ambition to be more democratic.”

Patten, who recently criticised calls for the city’s independence from China as “diluting supporting for democracy”, made clear that his hope lay in change within China.

“Do I think it is possible to go on indefinitely, seeing an economic or technological development without affecting politics? No,” he said.

He added he was not convinced that Chinese people do not care about human rights and politics.

“I believe China will change. And I hope that China changes, when it does, peacefully,” Patten said, saying he was far more concerned about the impact of Chinese leadership than the impact of US President Donald Trump.

That is because, he said, how China changes the world economy will influence the next generation globally.

At the lunch at the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation, veteran democrat Emily Lau Wai-hing asked if Patten, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, would raise in Parliament whether the country could give right of abode to British National (Overseas) passport holders. Hong Kong has more than 3.4 million BN(O) passport holders.

Patten said Lau had overestimated the influence of Parliament’s upper chamber, but promised to raise the matter.