Sir Percy, the chief official on the British side during the negotiations on the Joint Declaration, and subsequently foreign policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said on BBC TV's Newsnight last night that the present dispute with China was the worst for 10 years, possibly since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
Mr Patten's attempt to widen the franchise for the Legislative Council elections in 1995 has provoked a series of threats from China, the most recent that any official contracts or franchises not cleared in advance with Peking will cease to be valid on 1 July 1997, the date Hong Kong is handed over to Chinese control.
It was a mistake, Sir Percy said, to believe that China would not be prepared to wreck the economy of the colony to get its way. Politics came before economics for Peking, and the question of Hong Kong was one of national pride.
'They won't give way,' he said. 'Even if you had a much more liberal regime in Peking, it doesn't follow that it would be less nationalistic in its treatment of Hong Kong. The eyes of the world are upon them. They are not going to back down.'
Sir Percy said it did not matter which side was winning, because Hong Kong suffered whenever there was any conflict. He was asked whether the Foreign Office 'China lobby', of which he had been a leading member, had not been too ready to give in to Peking. In a reply clearly aimed at Mr Patten, he said that one could strike 'heroic poses' for the British public, but that it would hurt Hong Kong.
Mr Patten is known to be impatient with criticisms of the Sinologists, now mostly retired, who handled policy towards China in the 1970s and 1980s. Sources in the Hong Kong government have emphasised that he is not short of expertise about China among his advisers.
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