Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, said Britain has an obligation to ensure China respects its commitments under the Joint Declaration, under which the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty.
Writing in the Financial Times, Patten said Britain has a huge stake in the well-being of Hong Kong, with a political system in balance with its economic freedom.
“I hope these questions will be resolved in a way that does not jeopardise the city’s future,” he said.
Patten said the Joint Declaration guarantees Hong Kong’s way of life for 50 years after 1997.
“Deng Xiaoping’s ‘one country, two systems’ pledge is backed by an international treaty, lodged at the UN. As successive British governments have accepted, the UK has a continuing ‘moral and political obligation’ to ensure that China respects its commitments,” he said.
Chinese authorities earlier told Britain to drop an inquiry into the progress of democratic reforms in Hong Kong, accusing it of “highly inappropriate” interference in its affairs, the BBC has reported.
China’s foreign affairs committee has sent a strongly worded letter to its British counterpart condemning the probe into the state of democracy in Hong Kong since the territory was handed over to Chinese control in 1997.
This came after pro-democracy activists condemned Beijing’s decision on the political framework for the 2017 chief executive election, which allows a nominating committee to vet the candidates for the position.
In the FT article, Patten said: “When Chinese officials attack British MPs and others for commenting on developments in Hong Kong, they ignore the fact that Britain too has treaty obligations for 50 years, which reflect what our country has said and promised in the past. Failure to do as we pledged would clearly be dishonourable.”
However, he said his comments are “not directed principally to Beijing or Hong Kong’s democrats”.
As a former Hong Kong governor, Patten said, what he could legitimately do is to “invite an interrogation of Britain’s sense of honour”.
“It may not be welcome to ministers, at a time when so many appallingly difficult international issues crowd their agenda, to remind them that we have moral responsibilities for what happens in Hong Kong,” he added.
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