Independence can never be an option for Hong Kong’s future, but discussions over it should be allowed on campus, former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten said.
In an interview with the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Patten, who is currently the chancellor of the University of Oxford, said he agrees that there are limits for freedom of speech, but he still thinks university students are entitled to express their opinions on controversial issues, and the university should not forbid the students to discuss controversial issues under certain limitations.
Student unions from 12 tertiary institutions, including seven public universities (except the Hong Kong Polytechnic University), said in a joint statement on Saturday that their right to discuss independence is protected under Article 27 of the Basic Law.
They issued the joint statement a day after the heads of 10 universities condemned the abuse of freedom of expression on campus.
The last colonial governor said the standoff, which has been seen in local universities during the past two weeks, should be left for them to resolve and school management should stay neutral to keep itself from being seen as agents for the government.
He stressed what the Hong Kong society needs right now is more dialogues.
The society need to make more efforts to “build bridges, not walls”, he said.
The government officials should do their best to talk sense to students in polite and firm fashion to help them understand what the reality is, but no official has ever tried to do so over the past year, Patten said, adding that a dialogue should be a two-way communication instead of forcing the opposite side to yield.
Patten had said before there are reasons he is not supportive of Hong Kong independence, including that he does not see any chance for it to happen and advocating independence can only weaken the local power to fight for democracy.
However, he believes having a dialogue with the students over the issue and allowing them to discuss it are the right things to do.
That said, he warns there is a fine line when it comes to limits of freedom of speech and it must be dealt with extremely carefully.
He also revealed that he wrote to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor about three weeks ago, expressing his hope to see her really fulfill her election pledge to unite society.
Meanwhile, Patten attended a luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong on Tuesday to promote his new book First Confession: A Sort of Memoir, which is the purpose of his visit to Hong Kong this time.
Outside the venue, close to 10 pro-democracy people holding yellow umbrellas, symbol of the 2014 Occupy movement, demanded that the British government keep its promise to make implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle consistent with what it is supposed to be.
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