Lord Patten was the last governor of Hong Kong, and still, it seems, has a
keen interest in its affairs. He has written a piece for The Financial
Times, extolling his views on Britain’s “moral and political obligation” to
its former colony. But his words, like his actions as governor, reveal that
he never understood China, and that his views on Hong Kong are anachronistic
The background of Lord Patten’s piece is that the Chinese National People’s
Congress (NPC) has decided that the election of a chief executive for Hong
Kong in 2017 shall be implemented by universal suffrage. This is the lawful
requirement under the Basic Law adopted by the National People’s Congress in
1990, and marks a historic step forward in Hong Kong’s history. But in Lord
Patten’s eyes, this is “denial” of democracy and means the Hong Kong people
“lack the ability to choose who governs them”.
Given Lord Patten’s reputation, it is saddening to note that his judgment is
so flawed, just as it was when he was in his Hong Kong role. He writes that
“Beijing’s views on the status of the Hong Kong judiciary raise concerns
about judicial independence” – a seriously misleading and irresponsible
claim which has no basis in fact.
Only a week earlier, Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court of the
United Kingdom, had said that “at the moment I detect no undermining of
judicial independence.” Lord Patten, of course, made no mention of this in
But Lord Patten has been getting it wrong in Hong Kong since the beginning,
despite his strong and misguided attachment to the place. In his article, he
takes pains to defend his record there: but he should not forget that it is
exactly what he did in Hong Kong that caused confrontation between China and
Britain over Hong Kong and a cooling of the relationship between the two
It was Lord Patten himself who impeded the course of Chinese-British
cooperation over Hong Kong, and made the smooth handover of the colony more
difficult. He sowed mistrust, division and estrangement in the society, and
hindered the advancement of democracy. That is his legacy.
Hong Kong has not, as Lord Patten appears to believe, been bequeathed
democracy by Britain. For more than a century and a half, Britain had total
responsibility for the territory – and did nothing to encourage or produce
democracy. It is therefore the rankest hypocrisy of people such as Lord
Patten to criticise China for any perceived failings to introduce democracy.
Democracy will come to Hong Kong naturally. It is the outcome of the region’s
social progress. Its constitutional basis must be the Basic Law, not the
Sino-British Joint Declaration. The Basic Law sets out in clear terms the
objective of selecting a chief executive for Hong Kong through the
application of universal suffrage, while the Joint Declaration only provided
for election or consultation.
Now China’s NPC decision on Hong Kong’s political reform has reaffirmed that
it will produce a chief executive through universal suffrage. But curiously,
Lord Patten has asked China to deliver its commitment. The Chinese
government does have commitments to Hong Kong: to advance democracy in an
orderly, step-by-step way.
These are the commitments that the Chinese central government has made to all
Chinese people, including Hong Kong people. There is no need for a foreigner
to make irresponsible comments.
Political reform in Hong Kong is at a critical and sensitive juncture. The
NPC’s decision reflects a strong sense of responsibility to Hong Kong, and
to all China. The decision is lawful and reasonable. It sets out the
principle for the election of the chief executive through universal suffrage
and suits the reality in Hong Kong. The sovereignty and jurisdiction over
Hong Kong rests with the Chinese central government. The decision is a
reflection of this principle. It brooks no defiance by any individual or any
As long as the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, and the wider
public, follow the Basic Law and the NPC’s decisions, and continue with
rational, practical discussions aimed at building consensus, then I believe
that political reform will proceed smoothly. In this way Hong Kong will
achieve the final objective of universal suffrage and advance democracy.
Hong Kong today is not the Hong Kong of 1997, and the Chinese-British
relationship of today is not the Chinese-British relationship of 1997
either. Today China and Britain are committed to building a comprehensive
strategic partnership for common growth and inclusive development. Our
cooperation in a wide range of areas has delivered real benefits to both our
peoples, as was shown in the Sixth China-UK Economic and Financial Dialogue
jointly chaired by Vice Premier Ma Kai and Chancellor George Osborne last
week. Hong Kong should not be allowed to be an obstacle in Chinese-British
relations; instead, China and the UK should work together to maintain the
prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. This not only serves the fundamental
interests of Hong Kong people; it also serves the common interests of China
and the UK, as well as the wider international community. Lord Patten’s
ill-informed comments do nothing to advance that cause.
Liu Xiaoming is the Chinese ambassador to the UK
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
Scottish readers: Undecided about the referendum? Please read Scottish Independence, Power And Propaganda.