Ahead of anniversary, Patten says HK values will survive

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Hong Kong’s liberal and democratic values will survive despite Beijing’s tightening political control, according to the last governor of the former British colony.

With Hong Kong preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the handover on Friday, Lord Christopher Patten, 78, who governed the city between 1992 and 1997, is busily attending events this week to share his views about the special administrative region’s deteriorating freedoms over the past decade.

In 2013, a year after Chinese President Xi Jinping took office, the leader issued a document titled Communiqué No 9 that ordered his officials to fight an intense struggle against all aspects of liberal democracy, including freedom of speech and constitutional democracy, Patten said on Monday at an event in London organized by the How To Academy where he promoted his new book The Hong Kong Diaries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong in 2017. Photo: Xinhua

“If you read the communiqué, you’d realize it’s a description of Hong Kong,” Patten said, adding that Chinese officials proceeded to tighten the control of Hong Kong as they were worried about the liberal democracy in the city.

After the 2019 anti-extradition protests, the Hong Kong government implemented a national security law on June 30, 2020. The police arrested thousands of politicians, activists and journalists.

In August 2020, Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong entrepreneur and the founder of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, was arrested for allegedly colluding with foreign powers. Apple Daily was forced to shut down in June last year when its assets were frozen by the police.

In the latest move, the government ordered children’s textbook publishers to stick to an official line: Hong Kong was never a colony; it was an occupied territory.

“Occupied by who?” said Patten. “Occupied by people who were refugees from communism on the mainland, like Jimmy Lai, who swam to the water to get to where? A British colony.”

The three treaties

In 1842, China’s Qing government, which itself had been established in 1644 by Manchus from what is now called northeastern China, signed the Nanking Treaty with the British government granting Britain the right to occupy Hong Kong – meaning the current Hong Kong Island – in perpetuity.

In 1858, the Qing government signed the Treaty of Tientsin to grant Britain a right to occupy the Kowloon peninsula, also in perpetuity. In 1898, it signed the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory to allow Britain to rent the New Territories in Hong Kong for 99 years.

After the Qing government collapsed in 1912, the nationalist-ruled Republic of China became the ruling regime on the mainland. In 1949, the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China, the so-called New China.

Communist leader Mao Zedong did not move immediately to reclaim Hong Kong but decided to fully utilize its value over the long run. The value referred to Hong Kong’s connection to the West, which could help modernize China.

China’s flag is raised by People’s Liberation Army soldiers to signal Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty after 156 years of British rule, in Hong Kong, July 1, 1997. Photo: Agencies

Once Communist China had obtained United Nations membership in 1971 it moved to demand the return of long-separated territories Hong Kong and Macau, refusing to recognize them as “colonies” despite the terminology then in use.

The Chinese UN representative, Huang Hua, wrote to the UN Decolonization Committee in 1972 stating the government’s position, using its own terminology and calling them “occupied territories” of Britain and Portugal, respectively.

In 1984, the United Kingdom and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration and agreed that Hong Kong would be handed over on July 1, 1997. Then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping promised that, under the principle of “one country, two systems,” Hong Kongers’ freedoms and way of living would be unchanged for half a century after the handover.

This Friday will mark the halfway mark of the “unchanged 50 years” guaranteed by Deng, who died in February 1997.

Patten said Beijing had tried to rewrite history in Hong Kong by banning the annual June 4 vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 from 2020 and shutting down of the June 4th Museum last year. He said such attempts would not succeed.

“During these years with the Communists’ rule in the rest of China, one thing that Hong Kong has been in a way is China’s memory pass,” Patten said. “All sorts of things which are important for China’s hope have been made possible in Hong Kong – and have provided mainlanders memories of what had been and what might again be.”

The former governor enumerated “publishing books, making films and so on.”

“I think that will endure,” he said.

He said that over the years, Hong Kong people had kept their Cantonese language and built up a real sense of citizenship, a unique culture, a sense of humor and an awareness of what was happening in the world.

“It seems to me it’s unlikely that the Communist’s way of doing things is going to completely wipe out any of the regional variations in the rest of China,” Patten said.

‘The police guy’

In September 2014, the Occupy Central protests, or Umbrella Movement, broke out as tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters adopted a civil disobedience approach to occupy roads in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok for 79 days.

In June 2019, anti-extradition law protests erupted, resulting in a landslide victory for the pro-democracy camp in the District Council elections in November that same year.

The protests took a violent turn and, in 2020, the police cracked down, citing national security and public health. Then-Secretary for Security John Lee, a former police constable who led the crackdown, will become Hong Kong’s new chief executive on Friday, replacing the outgoing Carrie Lam.

John Lee will become the next Chief Executive of Hong Kong on July 1, 2022. Photo: cso.gov.hk

Patten said the wife and two children of “the police guy,” referring to Lee, held foreign passports while Lam’s husband and two children, as well as many senior police officers, had British passports.

He said such a phenomenon showed that officials had low confidence in Hong Kong.

“The United Kingdom government has been good now by issuing British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports for younger people to move in,” Patten said. “But the paradox is that people and their own kids who have British passports have been persecuting kids who don’t. I think that’s something that should bother us all.”

Lifeboat schemes

In early 2021, at the same time when the UK launched the British National (Overseas) citizenship scheme for Hong Kong people, other countries including Australia and Canada also unveiled lifeboat schemes for Hong Kongers.

At least 100,000 Hong Kong people have moved to the UK but a lot more people are staying in the special administrative region for different reasons.

Patten admitted that it’s difficult for him to give an answer about how to help those who wanted to but could not leave Hong Kong.

Currently chancellor of Oxford Univesity, Patten said he’s “regularly asked by Hong Kong students, sometimes Chinese students, about whether they should go back to Hong Kong. It’s a very difficult question for me to answer,” he said.

When one Hong Kong student asked him whether he should return to Hong Kong after finishing his PhD at Oxford, Patten said, he shared his view about Hong Kong’s situation – which made the student’s girlfriend burst into tears.

“That moved me quite a lot,” he said.

“It’s always a case in politics that when you can’t really give a good answer to a question, something is going wrong. And I could not give a good answer to that question. But I still strongly believe that Hong Kong citizens will hold on to the things they believe in. Those things are of enduring value. Glory to Hong Kong.”

Read: HKers abroad mark the anniversary of 2019 protests

Read: Patten opposed to ‘burn with us’ strategy for Hong Kong

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3

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