14 November 2018
Once China's political enemy No.1, Chris Patten went easy on Beijing during his recent visit to Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ
Once China's political enemy No.1, Chris Patten went easy on Beijing during his recent visit to Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Why Patten won’t support pro-independence groups

As the old saying goes, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British colonial governor, can readily testify to that.

Just look at the way Patten, once China’s political enemy No.1, went easy on Beijing and talked tough on pro-independence students during his latest trip to Hong Kong. From his comments, we can conclude that he is truly a master of political pragmatism.

Instead of offering some supportive words, Patten lambasted pro-independence groups in Hong Kong for their alleged dishonesty, stupidity and recklessness. This was in stark contrast to his sympathetic stance toward the Occupy Movement two years ago.

Many Hongkongers simply couldn’t get their heads round the Britisher’s sudden about-face in relation to the city’s politics.

That said, if we look back in history, we can find that Patten’s stance towards Hong Kong has remained rather consistent over the past 25 years.

The only thing he was concerned about all the way, both when he was in office here and after he left the post, was ensuring a glorious retreat for Britain from Hong Kong, rather than precipitate democratization of our city. Hong Kong independence was never on Patten’s or London’s agenda.

London’s indifference towards Hong Kong’s democratization or independence indeed dates back to the early 80s, when Beijing and London reached an unspoken agreement that Hong Kong had no role whatsoever in the Sino-British talks related to the transfer of sovereignty of the city.

All that Hong Kong people could do was accept without question whatever arrangements were imposed on them, whether they liked them or not.

In fact London was as vigilant against the so-called “three-legged stool” as Beijing was. It meant that the handover of Hong Kong was purely a diplomatic matter between the two great powers, and Hong Kong had absolutely no say as far as its future was concerned.

Given that the wishes of the Hong Kong people were never a concern of the British government, one should not have been surprised at all by the cold shoulder Sir Chung Sze-yuen and his Exco and Legco delegation received during a trip to London in the mid-80s to lobby against the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

As far as Chris Patten is concerned, he has apparently considered his mission accomplished as far as securing a smooth handover is concerned. That is why there is simply no point in expecting him to stand up and be counted over a sensitive issue such as Hong Kong independence.

Besides, publicly rooting for our secession from China would amount to open violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by both governments in 1984, something that a seasoned and sophisticated politician like Patten would never do.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 29

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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