Hong Kong's last British leader: China pursuing 'Orwellian' agenda

The last British colonial governor of said the city's democrats are on the same side of history as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, and blamed Chinese President Xi Jinping for "tightening the screws" on the city's freedoms. He also called they latest move as part of an “" drive to eliminate opposition in violation of the agreement on handing the territory over to Beijing.

The last British governor of Hong Kong criticized the Chinese government on Friday over proposed national security legislation, calling it part of an "Orwellian" drive to eliminate opposition in violation of the agreement on handing the territory over to Beijing.

Chris Patten defended London's announcement that it would grant residency and a path to citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents if Beijing goes through with passage of the legislation.

The law is seen as potentially imposing severe restrictions on freedom of speech and opposition political activity in the former British colony that was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997. China has denounced the offer of citizenship as a violation of its sovereignty.

"If they've broken the (Sino-British) Joint Declaration, if they've thrown it overboard, how can they then use the joint declaration as though it stops us doing something that's a sovereign right of ours?" said Patten, now chancellor of the University of Oxford, in an online talk with reporters.

The declaration is a bilateral treaty signed as part of the handover process. China has essentially declared it null and void, while Britain says Beijing is reneging on its commitments made in the document that was supposed to be remain in effect until 2047.

China shocked many of Hong Kong's 7.5 million people when it announced earlier this month that it will enact a national security law for the city, which was promised a high level of autonomy outside of foreign and defense affairs.

An earlier push to pass security legislation was shelved after massive Hong Kong street protests against it in 2003. However, Beijing appeared to lose patience after months of sometimes violent anti-government protests in last year that China said was an attempt to split the territory off from the rest of the country.

Patten said the security legislation is unnecessary because Hong Kong's legal code already includes provisions to combat terrorism, financial crimes and other threats to security.

"What Beijing wants is something which deals with those rather worrying Orwellian crimes like sedition, whatever that may be," Patten said.

China may also be seeking grounds to disqualify opposition candidates from running in September's election for the local legislature by accusing them of being disloyal, he said.

Beijing has ignored promises that Hong Kong could democratize of its own accord after the handover, Patten said. The U.S. should unite with other democratic countries to oppose underhanded tactics by Beijing, he said.

"It's the Chinese Communist Party which attacks us, which hectors, which bullies, which tells companies which have roots in our countries, that unless they do what China wants, they won't get any business in China," Patten said. "That's the way the Mafia behave, and the rest of the world shouldn't put up with it, because if we do, liberal democracies are going to be screwed."

Patern urged the United States to take leadership in bringing countries together in their dealings with China to prevent being "picked off" one by one by Beijing.

Patten, who governed Hong Kong until its 1997 transfer to Chinese rule, has been sharply critical of China's move last month to impose national security legislation.


"Since Xi Jinping came in, we've seen a gradual tightening of the screws on Hong Kong," Patten told journalists.

Patten said that he worries that the proposed law may make it harder for democratic candidates to qualify to stand for the Legislative Council election in September, and salutes them for their fight.

"They are on the same side of history as people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Making martyrs of them, as China seems to be intent on doing, will make even more certain in 10, 15, 20 years time, people are remembering them, not Xi Jinping and his mafiaso," he said.

China's parliament approved last week a decision to create national security laws for Hong Kong to curb sedition, secession, terrorism and foreign interference, saying it needs to do so because the Hong Kong government has not been able to pass the law itself. The city was rocked by months of sometimes anti-government, anti-China protests.

Patten on Friday also called for countries to reflect on how to continue dealings with China "while recognising that we can't let it get away indefinitely with bullying and heckling and breaking of rules".

He likened the way China detained two Canadian citizens in late 2018 and recently boycotted Australian barley to pressure these countries to "mafia-like" behaviour, and said, "the rest of the world shouldn't put up with it".

"I totally agree with those who say you need to reset, but not end, your relationship with China," he said.

Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" formula guaranteeing its freedoms and autonomy, which protesters say are being eroded by Communist Party rulers in Beijing.

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