China has betrayed the people of Hong Kong and the UK has a moral, economic and legal duty to stand up for them, Chris Patten, the last governor of the former British colony, has said.
Beijing is set to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong after a sustained campaign of pro-democracy protests last year in the city, which enjoys many freedoms not allowed on mainland China.
“The Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China,” and the west should stop kowtowing to Beijing for an illusory “great pot of gold”, Patten was quoted as saying in the Times.
Patten watched as the British flag was lowered over Hong Kong when the colony was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule.
Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the 1984 joint declaration signed by the Chinese premier at the time, Zhao Ziyang, and the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Beijing’s plans to impose national security laws on Hong Kong risk destroying the declaration, Patten said. Washington has called the laws a “death knell” for the city’s autonomy.
“What we are seeing is a new Chinese dictatorship,” said Patten, a former chair of the Conservative party and cabinet member under Thatcher and her successor, John Major. “The British government should make it clear that what we are seeing is a complete destruction of the joint declaration.”
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has said her government will cooperate fully with Beijing to safeguard national security, which she said would not affect rights, freedoms or judicial independence.
Patten said the prospect of Chinese investment was no reason for the UK to abandon its principles.
“We should stop being fooled that somehow at the end of all the kowtowing there’s this great pot of gold waiting for us. It’s always been an illusion,” he said. “We keep on kidding ourselves that unless we do everything that China wants we will somehow miss out on great trading opportunities. It’s drivel.”
The British government did not immediately comment on Saturday.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Friday that the prime minister and his government were monitoring the situation, and that as a party to the joint declaration the UK was committed to the upholding Hong Kong’s autonomy and respecting the one country, two systems model.
Patten, now the chancellor of Oxford University, also suggested Hong Kong residents with British national (overseas) passports should be allowed to settle in the UK. “We should be more lenient, we should give them longer periods to stay and work here if they are students. When people are politically threatened we should be much more prepared to let them settle here.”
He said China has used the coronavirus crisis as a distraction to push through its geopolitical aims. “They are using the fact … to apply more muscle in the South China Sea, they are rattling sabres around Taiwan,” he said.
Patten also said the government should think carefully about the Chinese company Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network. “If people argue we should deal with Huawei because they’re just like any other multinational company, that is for the birds. If they come under pressure from the Communist government to do things which are thought to be in Beijing’s interest, they will do it.”
Johnson was forced to cave in on Friday to Conservative backbench rebels opposed to Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks in Britain, and drew up plans to reduce the Chinese company’s involvement to zero by 2023.