Do Hong Kongers acknowledge their British history

The last British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, in an interview: "We must not be so easily intimidated by China"

In 1997, Chris Patten was responsible for the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China, today relations between London and Beijing are undercooled. In an interview, Patten describes Hong Kong as a victim of an increasingly authoritarian policy by Xi Jinping - and calls on both British and Europeans to confront Beijing with more united and decisive action.

On June 30, 1997, Chris Patten was the last British governor of Hong Kong to hand over power over the former crown colony to mainland China, with Beijing granting the area extensive political autonomy rights in a treaty with London. But now the principle of “one country - two systems” is a thing of the past, explains Patten in a video interview with the NZZ and other European media. The implementation of the new Chinese security law, which makes offenses such as insurrection a punishable offense, is deliberately fraught with ambiguities: "In Hong Kong, the rule of law has been replaced by the rule of fear," says Patten. In 1997 people in London believed that China was a dictatorship, but that it would stick to treaties and respect Hong Kong's special status. "But now Hong Kong has fallen victim to the tighter rule since Xi Jinping's rise to dictator."

Ice Age between London and Beijing

According to Patten, this development is also reflected in Beijing's aggressive foreign policy towards countries from India to Australia or in the human rights violations against the Uyghurs in the province of Xinjiang, where Patten explicitly speaks of possible violations of the UN Genocide Convention. Patten is not alone in his relentless analysis in Great Britain; on the contrary, relations between London and Beijing have grown frostier over the past few weeks. At the weekend, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights violations against the Uyghurs and spoke of possible sanctions. On Monday, the government announced changes to the extradition treaty with Hong Kong. And the British plan to offer long-term residence permits to up to around three million Hong Kong residents born in colonial times in the UK recently caused great annoyance in Beijing.

Last week, the government of Boris Johnson also decided that the Chinese technology group Huawei may not participate in the expansion of the British 5G mobile network for security reasons. While American President Donald Trump celebrated London's U-turn as a personal victory, Patten points out that Johnson acted primarily under pressure from conservative backbenchers and the Labor Party. In view of the company's close cooperation with the Chinese security authorities, the belief that Huawei is a company like any other is “completely ridiculous,” says Patten: “If Xi orders the Huawei chairman to jump into the air, the chairman can only do it still ask how high he should jump. "

Merkel and Europeans on a cautious course

Patten also hopes that the EU states will act tougher against Beijing. When asked about the cautious behavior of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Patten says that the Chancellor, who grew up in the GDR, knows the difference between a police state and a free country and has always been on the side of freedom. “Dialogue with China is all right, but it has to be a dialogue in which negative behavior also has consequences,” demands Patten. The member of the British House of Lords also warns Western countries not to duck into Beijing because of economic fears. China likes to make threats, but is reliant on international trade.

Patten, who also served as EU foreign commissioner from 1999 to 2004, is well aware of the EU's difficulties in speaking with one voice. And after Brexit, as a Briton, he is reluctant to give advice to the EU. But it is essential to prevent the dependence of some EU states such as Hungary, Italy or Greece on Chinese investments in the context of the New Silk Road from paralyzing the EU in terms of foreign policy. In addition, the EU must defend democracy and the rule of law not only from outside, but also from within. "Everyone knows that Viktor Orban is branding the EU from Monday to Friday and collecting the check on Sunday."

New alliances against China

Patten, who considers Brexit to be a mistake, contradicts the reading that the British will only find their way back to a more effective foreign policy thanks to their exit from the EU. Great Britain could have defended Hong Kong's interests within the EU and still could have countered China's efforts to divide the EU countries apart, he says. "We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed around so easily by China and we have to recognize that we are stronger within alliances." Patten speaks of a coordinated approach of the European countries with states from India to South Korea and Japan to Australia and Canada. And he believes that after a possible change of power in Washington, Joe Biden would hold on to the tough stance against Beijing, but would again rely more on such international cooperation.

In the developments in Hong Kong, Patten recognizes two fundamental lessons for the West: First, Beijing only adheres to treaties selectively, which has already been shown in the framework of the World Trade Organization. Second, with its freedom of expression and press, its strong civil society and the rule of law, Hong Kong symbolizes precisely those liberal institutions that the Communist Party sees as the greatest threat. Despite gloomy prospects, Patten has not yet given up long-term hope for Hong Kong: "The liberal values ​​of the protest movement will have a longer lifespan than the ideas that Xi Jinping instills in his people."