Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, has said that Hong Kong people should talk to each other, but not about killing one another over political views.

He said Hong Kong must have a “grown up discussion” about civil disobedience and decide how much is allowable.

“What I hope is that people will start talking to one another again. I hope there will be a dialogue,” he said. “You can’t simply expect people to accept your values or standards or political judgements without talking to them about it. You can’t trample ideas into the dust.”

Chris Patten. Photo: HKFP.

Patten was speaking at a luncheon of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on his latest visit to Hong Kong, which was partly made to promote his new book.

A debate has raged on campuses across the city recently over the appearance of Hong Kong independence slogans in universities. Patten reiterated his disapproval of independence for the city.

The politician said he hoped vice-chancellors will be allowed to get on with their jobs of running their universities, which he said are independent autonomous bodies: “They are not agents of the government even though they receive money from the government.”

“I believe in freedom of speech. But as chancellor of Oxford, there are some things which I would be very much against people saying,” he added, as he cited philosopher Edmund Burke as saying: “Liberty must be limited in order to be possessed.”

“You can’t engage in hate speech. You couldn’t for example say that somebody should be killed because of their political views,” he said, apparently referring to pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho’s recent call to kill pro-independence activists. “You couldn’t talk about race in an aggressive hateful way. You couldn’t talk about people’s sexual preferences in that sort of way. What you could do is debate gay marriage.”

Junius Ho. Photo: Facebook/Junius Ho.

He said students should recognise the importance of behaving in a restrained way when making their arguments.

“I think you should ask the government to come and talk to you. And if the government didn’t, then I think students would have a better claim to the moral high ground than they got at the moment.”

“I used to argue with [former Chinese official] Lu Ping and with others that if you give Hong Kong a bit more democracy, you’ve got to recognise that it’s a moderate place and people will behave responsibly because it’s their city, and a city of which they are proud. That remains my conviction, but I don’t think it helps to fulfil those objectives if you put anybody who argues for democracy into a corner, which simply drives them into extremes – so for heaven’s sake, I hope people will start talk[ing] to one another again.”

“People should be prepared to talk to one another, not fight another, or not talk about killing one another, or not putting out posters welcoming people’s suicides.”

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.