The former British governor of Hong Kong on Monday urged Prime Minister Theresa May to address concerns about the political situation there as she heads to China for a three-day visit focused on boosting trade ties after Brexit.

In a letter to May’s Downing Street office, Chris Patten said Hong Kong was facing “increasing threats to the basic freedoms, human rights and autonomy” that its people were promised at the 1997 handover to China.

Chris Patten. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The joint letter with Liberal Democrat lawmaker Paddy Ashdown urged May to “go on insisting on the continued validity of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the principles of ‘one country, two systems’”.

“We hope… that you will be able to provide the people of Hong Kong with some assurance that our developing relationship with China, vital though it is, will not come at the cost of our obligations to them,” it said.

Patten has repeatedly spoken out about the importance of protecting Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms.

Since 1997, Hong Kong has been ruled under a semi-autonomous “one country, two systems” deal which allows rights unseen on the mainland, but Beijing is increasingly tightening its grip.

Theresa May. Photo: 10 Downing St.

A spokesman for May’s Downing Street office said: “We’ve always been clear and continue to be clear that it’s vital that Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms are respected.

“We are firm believers in one country, two systems, and we welcome the Chinese commitment to it.”

May’s trip will take in Beijing, Shanghai and the central city of Wuhan, and include meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

She will be accompanied by her international trade minister Liam Fox and a 50-strong business delegation including the chief executives of Jaguar Land Rover, AstraZeneca and BP among others.

“There are huge trade opportunities in China that we want to help British businesses take advantage of,” May said before leaving.

“My visit will intensify the ‘Golden Era’ in UK-China relations. The depth of our relationship means we can have frank discussions on all issues.”

They are also expected to discuss North Korea, global health and climate change on the prime minister’s second trip to China since taking office, a spokesman said.

May will be accompanied by her husband Philip, only the second time he has joined her on an official trip abroad.

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