Don’t give up on pursuit of democracy, former governor Chris Patten tells Hongkongers
City’s last colonial leader says he understands frustration over lack of progress, but warns that advocating independence from China is a ‘bad idea’
Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten wrapped up his four-day visit to the city on Thursday by telling Hongkongers not to give up on their pursuit of democracy and asking Beijing in turn to “trust Hong Kong”.
Speaking at a hall packed with hundreds of people at the University of Hong Kong, Patten said that he could understand the frustration Hong Kong people faced on the city’s road to democracy after Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
“What really happened since 1997 is – nothing. There haven’t been new developments that many people have hoped for. I can understand why that produces frustration ... which mushroomed in 2014,” he said.
In 2014, tens of thousands of people blocked the streets of Hong Kong as they pushed for universal suffrage – a vote to elect the city’s leaders. Police resorted to using tear gas to get people off the streets, causing an uproar.
The chief executive is currently selected by a 1,200-strong panel.
“The demonstration caught the attention of the world in an extraordinary way, mostly because of the way it was conducted. Do I think that because it didn’t work, people should give up on democracy? No, I don’t,” Patten said.
But he also made clear that advocating independence in Hong Kong was a “bad idea” that could provoke “some of the most hostile elements in the Chinese Communist Party”.
Asked about his last message to Hong Kong before leaving the city he governed from 1992 to 1997, he said Hong Kong is a great city, and he hoped it would remain so.
“I hope that (Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuen-ngor) is capable of uniting the community as she said. I think Hong Kong will remain a great city provided that China is committed as it says it is to ‘one country, two systems’ so we don’t finish with one country and a quarter system.”
Under the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong is entitled to a high degree of autonomy from the control of the mainland Chinese government.
As for his message to Beijing, Patten gave a short reply: “Trust Hong Kong.”
Just hours before he delivered his speech at HKU, two former student leaders from the university were convicted over the chaotic siege of a HKU governing council meeting last year.
Former student union president Billy Fung Jing-en, 23, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service on three charges of disorderly conduct in a public space, criminal damage and attempted forcible entry.
His then vice-president Colman Li Fung-kei, 22, received 200 hours for one summons of obstructing a public officer in the performance of his duty.
Patten, who is Chancellor of the University of Oxford, was asked by reporters if he would have called police if he had been among those surrounded by HKU students during the siege last year.
“Do you not think I have ever experienced students getting cross with me? Or not necessarily besieging me in my office, but doing things which infringed on my dignity or went beyond normal exchanges of arguments?” he asked.
Patten said he had been a university chancellor in Hong Kong and the UK for 20 years and had never asked police to deal with students.