Hong Kong needs to talk about political reform, last colonial governor Chris Patten says; city ‘not out to cause Beijing trouble’
Government should resume dialogue with the public, Patten says
Hong Kong’s last colonial governor has called on the city’s current leader to resume dialogue with the public on political reform after an ill-fated effort two years ago, but he stopped short of supporting any renewed push for change in the next five years.
Chris Patten also said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor should make clear to Beijing that debate about democracy in Hong Kong did not constitute an act of subversion against the Chinese state, nor did it mean the central government should treat Hongkongers as dissidents out to cause trouble.
Speaking in an interview with the Post on the second day of a visit to Hong Kong on Wednesday, Patten said Lam was a good communicator and should help persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to look on the city more favourably.
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When asked to compare Lam to her predecessor Leung Chun-ying, Patten said the benchmark had been set rather low by the previous administration.
But turning to Lam’s argument that relaunching political reform in her five-year term would only bring social division, he appeared to disagree.
“It seems to me that we see social division without political reforms,” he said. “If you want to unite the community, you have to be part of the dialogue about the community’s concerns, which obviously include social issues but also include politics.”
But Patten declined to say when would be the right time to relaunch reform work.
“It should be part of the dialogue that should be happening all the time,” he said. The government should have reached out to student leaders, who led protests over the previous reform effort, to discuss the issue, he added.
In June 2015, Hong Kong lawmakers voted on a political reform proposal to elect the city’s leader by universal suffrage in 2017. Based on a strict framework handed down by Beijing, the plan was opposed by opposition pan-democratic legislators, who said it did not offer “genuine universal suffrage”. Pro-establishment lawmakers failed to produce enough votes to secure its passage in the legislature, and it was voted down.
Patten said if the government kept opposing the idea that people should have a greater say in how government was conducted, it would likely push Hongkongers, who were “by nature extremely moderate”, to be more radical.
Recalling his days as the last British governor of Hong Kong before the city was handed back to China in 1997, Patten said no one in the city had ever given a speech in the streets at that time about killing others – a reflection of Hongkongers’ non-radical disposition. That comment was in reference to a recent assertion by lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu that activists advocating Hong Kong breaking away from Chinese rule should be “killed mercilessly”.
Patten offered his advice to Lam when he attended a lunch at the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on Wednesday afternoon.
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“I hope that she would make clear to the local [Beijing’s] liaison office that it should not interfere much in Hong Kong’s affairs,” he said.
When asked by veteran democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming if he had any message for three former student leaders jailed last month over an illegal protest in the run-up to 2014’s Occupy pro-democracy sit-ins, which were sparked by wrangling over political reform, Patten called on the youngsters to keep their faith in democracy, the rule of law and Hong Kong identity.
“To argue against the future isn’t a very good idea,” he said when asked how China should respond to the ideas of those youngsters.
The jailing of the trio was prompted by a successful push from Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung for a sentencing review after the activists were previously handed more lenient punishments by the courts. Patten on Tuesday said that move by Yuen had been a “political decision”, but on Wednesday he made it clear he disagreed with those who called the three “political prisoners”.
“I don’t think the judiciary is being politicised. I don’t think the judiciary does whatever the government tells it to do,” he said, but it was understandable people suspected that to be the case given Beijing’s intervention in recent court cases.
In November last year, the central government issued a controversial interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, ahead of a court ruling over whether two pro-independence legislators, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, should be removed from their seats over improper oaths of office. The courts subsequently ruled that they should be.