LONDON (Reuters) - China has betrayed the people of Hong Kong so the West should stop kowtowing to Beijing for an illusory great pot of gold, said Chris Patten, the last governor of the former British colony.
Beijing is set to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong after a sustained campaign of pro-democracy protests last year in the city, which enjoys many freedoms not allowed on mainland China.
“The Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China,” Patten was quoted as saying by The Times newspaper. Britain, he said, had a “moral, economic and legal” duty to stand up for Hong Kong.
Patten, now 76, watched as the British flag was lowered over Hong Kong when the colony was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule - imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War.
Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
But China’s plans to impose the security laws on Hong Kong risk destroying the declaration, Patten said.
The United States has branded the laws a “death knell” for the city’s autonomy and Britain has said it is deeply concerned by the legislation which it said would undermine the “one country, two systems” principle.
“What we are seeing is a new Chinese dictatorship,” Patten said. “The British government should make it clear that what we are seeing is a complete destruction of the Joint Declaration.”
U.S. President Donald Trump warned Washington would react “very strongly” if Beijing went ahead with the security law.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will “fully cooperate” with the Chinese parliament to safeguard national security, which she said would not affect rights, freedoms or judicial independence.
Patten said the West should stop chasing the illusory promise of Chinese gold and that Britain should think carefully about Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei’s involvement in the 5G network.
“We should stop being fooled that somehow at the end of the all the kowtowing there’s this great pot of gold waiting for us. It’s always been an illusion,” Patten said.
“We keep on kidding ourselves that unless we do everything that China wants we will somehow miss out on great trading opportunities. It’s drivel.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to reduce Huawei’s [HWT.UL] involvement in Britain’s 5G network in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge. Editing by Jane Merriman and Ros Russell