By Demetri Sevastopulo in Hong Kong and Kiran Stacey in London
Chris Patten, the former British governor of Hong Kong,
has waded into a heated debate about the territory’s relationship with
Beijing by accusing China of trying to undermine judicial independence
in the global financial centre.
Patten has generally avoided commenting on Hong Kong since he oversaw
the handover to China in 1997. But he said he felt compelled to speak
out because of a recent Chinese “white paper” that said Hong Kong judges
should be “patriotic” – which critics interpret as being loyal to the
“Judges under the rule of [Hong Kong] law are independent and there
shouldn’t be any question of them being instructed or pressed to
subordinate their views of due process and what is legal to some other
political considerations,” Lord Patten said in an interview.
China published the controversial document
last month in a move that critics saw as an attempt to stifle a
mounting movement for genuine universal suffrage. The Hong Kong bar
association criticised the white paper and hundreds of lawyers, many
dressed in black,recently held a silent rally in protest.
Anson Chan, the former head of
Hong Kong’s civil service, said the white paper had made some business
people “sit up and take notice” because “they can now clearly see even
the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are not protected
under this white paper”.
While pro-democracy activists
will welcome Mr Patten’s comments, Martin Lee, the founder of the
Democratic party and a prominent barrister, accused the UK of failing to stand up for Hong Kong.
Minister David Cameron made no public mention of the white paper when
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited London recently. But despite China’s
insistence that other countries should not interfere in its domestic
affairs, Mr Li felt comfortable expressing opposition to Scottish independence.
“How can the British government sell the Hong Kong people down the river?” said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee and Mrs Chan recently
visited the US,where they met vice-president Joe Biden. Mr Lee said that
when asked what the UK position was on Hong Kong, he replied: “The
British government’s policy on Hong Kong can be summarised in three
words – ‘more China trade’.”
Asked if he agreed that Mr
Cameron should criticise the white paper, Lord Patten said he had no
idea what was discussed with Mr Li.
But he said Hong Kong visitors to London would get “a very strong welcome both in parliament and outside”.
foreign office declined to comment on the interview with Lord Patten or
questions about judicial independence, but repeated the government’s
position that it welcomes the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive
through universal suffrage.
The white paper has also sparked
debate about multinationals in Hong Kong, which rely on the rule of
law, but are wary about angering Beijing because they could lose
lucrative China-related business.
HSBCand Standard Chartered
have both recently denied claims that they pulled advertising from an
anti-Beijing newspaper under pressure from China. The big four global
accounting firms – EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC – recently ran joint ads
in Chinese-language media in Hong Kong opposing the democracy movement.
Mr Lee and Lord Patten both said
they were surprised that business groups were not speaking out more
loudly against the white paper.
“It is surprising that
professional bodies . . . appear to have taken the line that they have
publicly,” said Lord Patten. “I can only assume that they haven’t had
the agreement of their global headquarters for what they have been
saying. I would imagine that their global heads would have been
surprised and slightly embarrassed.”
Lord Patten also criticised the
white paper for suggesting that the Sino-British Joint Declaration that
paved the way for the handover of the territory was not “joint”, and he
suggested that the people of Hong Kong had every right to protest.
“The Joint Declaration was an
international agreement . . . between China and Britain guaranteeing
Hong Kong’s freedoms and pluralism under the rule of law for 50 years,”
said Mr Patten. “It is wholly reasonable for Hong Kong citizens to
express concerns to both signatories if they think the terms of that
Joint Declaration are being questioned or undermined.”
The white paper said “outside
forces” were interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, which came after China
criticised the UK and US consuls-general for speaking about democracy in
the Chinese territory.
evaded the responsibility of the British Government (being one of the
signees of the Sino-British Joint Declaration) and only emphasizes the
right of the people of Hong Kong to voice their wish for universal
suffrage. The current British Government has absolute moral obligation
to fend that right for Hong Kong people, but instead she chooses to
remain silent, succumbing to the enormous economic benefit from China.
The massive turnout on 1st July seems to be in vain, the government is
as uncompromising as ever. The frustration and helplessness overhanging
the city are suffocating but in this crucial moment, we must turn them
into resolve. The fight must go on.
〝The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.〞--- Jack London