Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, has said that the city will not win independence from China and that such a campaign dilutes support for democracy.

“I have great admiration for those who campaign for democracy, but not those whose campaign dilutes support for democracy and makes a mockery of a serious political argument,” he said.

Patten appeared at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on Friday to give a speech on the world after Brexit and election of Donald Trump, but he soon shifted to Hong Kong matters. Patten, who left his leadership post in Hong Kong in 1997, said it was a “bit surprising” that Hong Kong’s democratic progress had not sped up. “It was supposed to take place at a steady rate, but the steady rate seems to be pretty slow.”

Chris Patten. Photo: HKFP.

He said he supports “sensible” democratic movements in Hong Kong, giving special mention to the Occupy protests of 2014 as a “peaceful and mature campaign for democracy.”

But he referred to his knowledge of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, noting that it included a paragraph on China’s national unity and territorial integrity.

“It would be dishonest, dishonourable and reckless of somebody like me to pretend that the case for democracy should be mixed up with an argument about the independence of Hong Kong – something which is not going to happen, something which dilutes support for democracy and something which has led to all sorts of antics which should not take place in a mature society aiming to be a full democracy,” he said.

“I think two years ago many brave young people in Hong Kong established moral high ground about democracy in governance and I think it would be a tragedy if that high ground was lost because of the antics about so-called independence for Hong Kong.”

Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching outside the High Court. Photo: Cloud.

Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung Chung-hang of Youngspiration, two localist politicians, took their oaths of office for their Legislative Council seats in ways that some deemed to be insulting to Chinese people. Beijing, in response, issued an interpretation of the Basic Law, stating that lawmakers must take their oaths sincerely and solemnly. Following that, the High Court ruled that the duo would thus lose their seats as legislators.

Patten was firm, saying that pledging allegiance “is a serious business.”

“Taking oath isn’t something of a lark,” he said. “You won’t take an oath, you can’t join the club.”

Chris Patten. Photo: HKFP.

Patten is now the chancellor of the Oxford University. He said he took oaths several times as the governor of Hong Kong, as a member of Britain’s parliament, and a member of the House of Lords, among others.

He cited the example of the Sinn Féin party, who would not pledge allegiance to the Queen. They were therefore unable to take their place in parliament. “Simple as that,” said Patten.

“And I would guess there are legislatures all over the world which have similar requirements,” he added.

Concluding his speech, he joked that he was “sorry to sound like a headmaster.”

Chris Patten. Photo: HKFP.

Unlikely subversion

Patten was also asked about the Article 23 of the Basic Law – the anti-subversion law which Hong Kong’s de facto constitution stipulates that the city should legislate on its own.

He said the UK did have strong views about the controversial law and that the legislation was avoided when he was governor.

“I thought that subversion was something that China’s unlikely to encounter as governor of Hong Kong. It has a sort of a rather quaint Leninist tone to it,” he said. “Pretty well since the 17th century – Guy Fawkes and all that – subversion hasn’t been a big issue in British politics.”

Baggio Leung at the High Court. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

‘Cannot avoid dealing with independence’

Baggio Leung, in response, said he respect Patten’s view but disagreed with his criticism with regards to advocacy of Hong Kong independence.

“I respect Chris Patten’s point of view, but regardless of his view, the indisputable fact is that there are demands for independence and self-determination. If we want democracy, we cannot avoid dealing with the proper relationship between China and Hong Kong – and the discussion on self-determination and independence is part of the process of fighting for democracy.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.