Blair and Cook abandon Patten

Drowning their sorrows? The last governor and the heir who will never rule Hong Kong

The Government yesterday publicly distanced itself from Chris Patten's five-year rule in Hong Kong in an eve-of-handover bid to put relations with China on a new and positive footing.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, dramatically refused to back Mr Patten, the outgoing governor and Peking's bogeyman in chief, and took a noticeably more emollient line on the forthcoming deployment of troops and armour in the colony, which Mr Patten had described as "appalling". Mr Cook said the arrival of the Chinese forces was "unnecessary and inappropriate".

And when Tony Blair arrives in Hong Kong tomorrow, he will stress his desire for a "new start" in relations with Peking.

Asked for his verdict on Mr Patten shortly after he arrived in the territory yesterday, Mr Cook said: "Our responsibility is to make sure that the handover goes smoothly, and that that the arrangements actually work for the next 50 years... I don't think this weekend is the time to debate whether the past five years have been spent usefully." When it was put to him that this was hardly a ringing endorsement, he replied: "We are where we are. We must now try to work with the situation we find ourselves in."

He declined to say what Labour might have done differently, but Mr Cook's remarks appear designed to distance the new government from the previous Conservative administration's clashes with China since the Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong was signed in 1984.

The Prime Minister will say that he sees Hong Kong as a "bridge rather than a barrier" to a better relationship between the two countries. Sources close to Mr Blair said he was heartened by the fact that the Chinese had arranged meetings for him with President Jiang Zemin and Li Peng, the Prime Minister, despite the short duration of his stay.

He is said to attach "great importance" to the contacts and see them as evidence of China's desire to improve relations. He too will call for China to adhere to the Joint Declaration but he will also lay emphasis on areas of future co-operation including trade, arms control, the environment and joint responsibilities on the UN Security Council.

Mr Cook said he had stressed to Tung Chee-hwa, who will take over tomorrow night as Chief Executive of Hong Kong, that fresh elections for the territory's legislature should be free and fair, and that public participation should not be restricted.

As soon as it takes control, China will dissolve the assembly elected under Mr Patten's more democratic framework and install a provisional legislature until the elections, which Mr Tung said he hoped to hold before next May.

The Government has also been cautious in its reaction to China's decision to send a large contingent of troops across the border on 1 July. The plans to bring in 4,000 troops with armoured personnel carriers hours after the handover were China's right, said Mr Cook, but he added: "What is important is that China is only responsible for the external defence of Hong Kong. Internal security is the responsibility of the Hong Kong government and its police force. I regret the scale of the deployment, and I don't see the need for armoured personnel carriers."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk