Former envoy attacks Patten's democracy plan

THE GOVERNOR of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who is about to put some of his political reform proposals to the colony's legislature at the risk of Chinese fury, was warned yesterday by Britain's former chief negotiator with China that he was 'taking Hong Kong over the edge'.

Sir Percy Cradock, Britain's ambassador in Peking from 1978 to 1984, and subsequently the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser until June last year, said Britain should reverse the unilateral and confrontational policy it had adopted since Mr Patten became Governor. 'We still could retreat,' he said. Persisting with proposals to broaden the franchise in Hong Kong risked a 'vicious backlash' from Peking.

Tomorrow Mr Patten will officially publish a draft bill to make changes in the colony's electoral system, and is due to table it for discussion by the Legislative Council (Legco) next Wednesday. Britain argues he is putting forward only the most urgent and least controversial aspects of his proposals, after seven months of fruitless talks with China, but Peking has said the start of the legislature's debate would kill off any future negotiations.

Yesterday Reuters news agency quoted Chinese sources as saying they were willing to accept the Governor's proposed voting method for the 1995 Legco elections if he held back now and resumed talks. A British source said no official offer had been made and he doubted it would be enough. Britain had proposed another round of talks in Peking from 17 to 19 December, but only to discuss matters outside Mr Patten's draft bill.

Sir Percy, who negotiated the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee yesterday that China would carry out its threats to dismantle whatever Mr Patten put in place. Pursuing more democracy in the face of Chinese opposition, and to the exclusion of all else, would result in permanent damage to democracy, the rule of law and 'the attributes of an open society'. He was supported in evidence to the committee by his two successors in Peking, Sir Richard Evans and Sir Alan Donald, who agreed Britain's change in policy was a mistake.

If Britain acted unilaterally, Sir Percy said, it gave the Chinese 'every pretext' to do so themselves. The lesser evil was to abandon Mr Patten's 'high-wire act' and negotiate the best deal possible, however humiliating it might appear. The interests of Hong Kong's people came first, and any other strategy would be 'indefensibly reckless'.

Sir Percy was involved in one or two sharp exchanges with MPs, telling Bob Wareing (Lab, Liverpool West Derby) that the Joint Declaration had been 'a triumph'. When Mr Wareing demurred, he said: 'You were all very pleased at the time.' 'Not everybody,' the MP interjected. Sir Percy described as 'an extraordinary and ignorant distortion' a complaint by a former Labour Foreign Office minister, Ted Rowlands, that British policy towards China had been run by 'Sinocentric diplomats'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor