It is London’s “duty” to speak up on Beijing’s recent decision about Hong Kong’s political reform because Britain has a “moral obligation” to the city, according to a former colonial governor of Hong Kong.
In an article published in the Financial Times, Chris Patten also stressed that even if there were “commercial consequences” for speaking up – referring to trade ties between Britain and China – they should not “be an overriding concern when our honour is on the line”.
“The Joint Declaration under which the territory passed from British to Chinese rule guaranteed Hong Kong’s way of life for 50 years after 1997 … As successive British governments have accepted, the UK has a continuing ‘moral and political obligation’ to ensure that China respects its commitments,” Patten said.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed on December 19, 1984, stipulated that Hong Kong shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle after its re-unification with China on July 1, 1997.
“We have a huge stake in the wellbeing of Hong Kong, with a political system in balance with its economic freedom. I hope these questions will be resolved in a way that does not jeopardise the city’s future,” Patten said.
On Sunday, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee ruled that while Hong Kong can pick its chief executive by “one man, one vote” in 2017, a 1,200-member nominating committee will only put forward two or three candidates who have won the support of half of its members.
Pan-democrat lawmakers criticised the decision as “unacceptable”, because the nomination threshold was only one-eighth when a 1,200-strong Election Committee nominated and elected Leung Chun-ying in 2012.
Patten echoed the pan-democrats’ criticism and wrote that Beijing’s decision would “prevent democrats and others of whom China might disapprove from seeking election”.
“Such vetting is more or less what happens in Iran,” the former governor wrote, describing it as a “denial” of democracy.
“On this occasion my comments are not directed principally to Beijing or Hong Kong’s democrats. What a former Hong Kong governor can more legitimately do is to invite an interrogation of Britain’s sense of honour. It may not be welcome to ministers, at a time when so many appallingly difficult international issues crowd their agenda, to remind them that we have moral responsibilities for what happens in Hong Kong,” Patten said.
Patten concluded that: “The British government will comment on Beijing’s plan. This would not be a provocation but a duty. No one can seriously believe that this would have commercial consequences, or that such consequences should be an overriding concern when our honour is on the line.”
Separately, the Democratic Party’s founder chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming told RTHK on Wednesday morning that some British lawmakers had planned to launch an inquiry on the implementation of the Joint Declaration before his visit to the UK in July.
“Some MPs had told me they were planning to launch an inquiry [but] it was not launched because of our visit,” Lee said.
Lee added that he could not predict how the British government would react to the inquiry, but he believed that UK lawmakers would conduct it fairly and a debate would be held in parliament.
Lee also reiterated that the NPC Standing Committee had failed to follow its procedures to have laid a stringent framework for the city’s political reform.
And Beijing could amend the framework anytime if there was strong demand from Hongkongers, he added.
“Things could still change as long as it has not become law formally,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the United States “supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and the aspirations of the Hong Kong people”.
“We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” she said.
It was the second time that Washington had commented on political reform in Hong Kong since Beijing made the decision on Sunday. Tokyo and Taipei also gave their views on the matter but London has yet to give any comment.
The Kyodo News reported earlier that the Japanese government is concerned about political development in Hong Kong.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said in a press conference that he strongly hopes that Hong Kong can remain “free and open” under the “one country, two systems” policy.