Patten's anniversary address stirs passions in Hong Kong

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The Independent Online
IT IS exactly a year since the British withdrew from Hong Kong. The new order has decided not to mark this anniversary, although it plans lavish celebrations for the following day, commemorating "the glorious reunification of the motherland".

The people of the former colony were, however, offered a reminder of the old order in the shape of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong.

At the invitation of the state-owned Radio Television Hong Kong he broadcast a "Letter to Hong Kong" on Sunday containing a controversial and characteristically forthright view on the territory's future.

Surprisingly, given the generally low level of coverage accorded to the former governor, the broadcast attracted a great deal of publicity and criticism from the pro-Peking media.

Mr Patten predicted that Hong Kong would come through the current financial crisis in good shape. But he struck a far more controversial note by noting with approval "how even the slightest hint that civil liberties in Hong Kong might be constrained has produced a big public response".

He also rubbed salt into the wounds of the new administration by referring to the victory in the elections in Hong Kong last month of "candidates who believe unequivocally in decency, democracy and the rule of law". Without exception those elected are vocal critics of the present regime. Mr Patten described their election as "a big thumbs-up for Hong Kong's future as a free society".

He told his audience he had been disappointed by his inability as governor of Hong Kong to attend the annual vigil in commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. "I used to watch the dignified crowds with admiration," he said. "I did so again this year." Chinese officials have described the vigil as subversive and have warned Hong Kong people not to meddle in the affairs of the Chinese mainland. Even before the broadcast was aired it attracted criticism from the Wen Wei Pao newspaper, a Peking- controlled daily.

Not only has Mr Patten been allowed to broadcast on the vigorously independent state-owned radio station but a recent opinion poll showed that the former governor still enjoys higher ratings than Tung Chee-hwa, the head of the first post-colonial administration.

A University of Hong Kong poll found 43.5 per cent of respondents saying that Mr Tung was doing a worse job than Mr Patten. Only 14 per cent thought Mr Tung was doing better.

The former governor is such a taboo subject in the new administration that he will not be invited to attend this week's opening of Hong Kong's new airport. This is despite the fact that the government claims all those who played a role in its creation have been invited. Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, Mr Patten's predecessor, who initiated the airport project was also left off the invitation list .

A government spokesman said that the two former governors were not be invited because "they do not fall into the category of overseas guests".

Mr Patten plans to come back to Hong Kong in October as part of a tour to promote his book East and West. This is the volume which was withdrawn from publication by HarperCollins on orders from the publisher's boss Rupert Murdoch, who stated that he disapproved of Mr Patten's policies as governor.