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Hong Kong localism and independence

Students and school bosses need to talk about Hong Kong independence posters, says Chris Patten

City’s last colonial governor criticises breakaway calls, saying they just strengthen pro-Beijingers’ hand in debate on political future

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 6:58pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 12:00pm

Hong Kong’s last colonial governor has said university bosses need to talk to pro-independence students over banners calling for the city’s breakaway, which have recently sprung up on local campuses.

Chris Patten, speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on Tuesday, criticised independence calls as “provocative” and “diluting supporting for democracy”, but stopped short of saying what else school heads could do to deal with them.

“They should start talking and not shouting at one another,” Patten said.

“I made clear I was also very much [against] allowing the campaign for democracy to morph into a campaign for independence, which isn’t going to happen, which is provocative, and which dilutes support for democracy.”

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He also said the trend for independence advocacy “simply strengthens hardliners on the mainland.”

The long-simmering furore over a breakaway from China bubbled up again recently when at least three large black banners bearing the words “Hong Kong independence” in Chinese and English appeared at Chinese University’s Sha Tin campus.

School staff quickly removed the signs. That caused students to accuse the school of suppressing free speech. Within days, separatist banners went up at the University of Hong Kong, City University, Polytechnic University, Education University and Shue Yan University.

Patten said he hoped staff and students could talk it out.

“In my experience, you can’t stop people arguing for what they want,” he said. “So I very much hope the students will get into a dialogue with their vice chancellor and I hope the reverse is true as well.”

Patten, now chancellor of the University of Oxford, said he would not stop students calling for forms of separatism from the UK at his school, and would talk to anyone who did.

“I think it’s extremely important to preserve freedom of speech. But it always has to be exercised with certain limits,” he said.

Moving onto the jailing of three student leaders of 2014’s pro-democracy Occupy protests, Patten said he thought Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung’s successful push for the harsher penalties was a “political decision”, something which the government has denied.

“He must know ... actions have consequences,” he said. “And not to understand what signal that would send to the rest of the world strikes me as being, to be frank, a little naive.