By SYLVIA HUI – Associated press
LONDON (AP) — Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong has been “much worse” than expected, the city’s last British governor said Monday as he launched a new book to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong. the return of the former British colony. to Chinese rule.
Chris Patten, who led the last British government in Hong Kong before the Asian financial hub returned to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, said it was “heartbreaking” to see its transformation.
“I thought there was a prospect that (China) would keep its word, and I’m sorry that’s not the case,” he said in London. “I find it extremely difficult. I believe Hong Kong is a big city, I hope it will be a big city again.
But he added that he was not too optimistic. “I will believe things change when some of those who have been in exile for the past few years start wanting to go back to China, to Hong Kong,” he told The Associated Press. “And that’s not happening right now.”
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Hong Kong, Britain’s last significant colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle that was supposed to preserve for 50 years its rule of law and civil liberties – including freedom of expression and assembly – not found elsewhere in mainland China.
But Beijing has dramatically stepped up its crackdown on dissent in the city since 2019, when massive pro-democracy protests sparked violent clashes between activists and police. Since authorities introduced a sweeping national security law in 2020, dissident media outlets have been shut down and more than 150 people have been arrested on suspicion of offenses including subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion for intervene in the affairs of the city.
Reflecting on his time in the city and what happened after the Brits left, Patten said “on the whole, Hong Kong stayed pretty much the same” for a decade after the transfer until Xi’s rise to power.
He said “(Chinese President Xi Jinping) and his henchmen” were terrified of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, and that he was surprised and distressed by the extent to which Beijing was ignoring the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the treaty that set the terms for the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.
“I am surprised that Xi Jinping has taken measures that are, I think, so bad for China’s medium and long-term interests, not only in the management of the economy, but also in the management of the soft power of China in the world…which is dissipating very quickly,” Patten said.
Patten called it “ridiculous” how Hong Kong authorities are reportedly planning to introduce new textbooks claiming the city was never a British colony.
He joked that his new book, a collection of his journal entries during his time as governor from 1992 to 1997, showed that “I exist and I am not a figment of my imagination.”
“As previous Chinese emperors and dictators have done, you can bury scholars, but you cannot bury their history,” he said.
Asked about his views on China’s military ambitions on Taiwan and whether this could lead to a situation comparable to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Patten said he hoped Xi would realize ” how incredibly dangerous it would be” to attack Taiwan.
“I guess Xi will look with some trepidation at how the world reacted to the invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “But the fact that we’re talking about it right now has me kind of worried.”
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