Patten plans a dignified retreat

STEPHEN VINES

Hong Kong

A year from this weekend, if all goes according to plan, Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong, will be standing on the bow of HMS Britannia with Prince Charles at his side, taking a last look at skyscraper-rimmed Victoria Harbour, the focal point of Hong Kong.

Sitting in his office in Government House after yet another week of being told to keep his mouth shut by China's various supporters in the territory, he was in reflective mood yesterday, contemplating his departure from the territory, which ceases to be a British colony a year on Sunday.

"I'm not a complete mutton-head," he told the Independent. "I don't think Britain should be planning anything like a triumphalist departure." Rather, he thinks a "dignified retreat" would be more in order. But such is the poor state of Sino-British relations that China wants nothing more than a summary handing-over ceremony.

Wrangling over the departure ceremony has been going on for more than a year and it may yet all end in tears. But, says Mr Patten, "people around the world would scratch their heads in wonderment" if some reasonable agreement cannot be reached.

Whether Mr Patten likes it or not, he is part of the problem. China calls him a "criminal through the ages" and cannot bear the idea of having the Governor play any significant role in the hand-over ceremonies. Mr Patten, displaying self-conscious diplomacy, denies that this is the problem.

It is unclear whether many Hong Kong people care much about how the British depart. They are becoming an increasingly marginal factor in the colony's affairs. Mr Patten admits that a "bad flavour" was created by Britain's failure to furnish Hong Kong's British passport holders with the right of abode in Britain. He argues that people "feel as strongly as they do because Britain is having to end this particular story of empire in a totally different way from all the others. Here a free society is being handed over to a society which, shall we say, has a different view of freedom".

Although the Governor was criticising the British Government, this sort of comment is guaranteed to make official Chinese hackles rise.

Peking cannot forgive him for pursuing the modest political reforms which gave rise to a form of more representative government. But he is adamant in expressing absolutely no regrets for having pressed ahead with the reform programme.

"There was no better way," he said, to achieve reforms which, he argues, formed a core part of the sovereignty transfer agreement. His critics say that if he had handled China more carefully, a greater degree of lasting change could have been achieved. "That's a cop-out," he sniffs, insisting there was no alternative to implementing policies supported by most of the population.

Despite the almost total breakdown of communication between the Governor and his Chinese counterparts he is "absolutely certain" that he will be able to return to Hong Kong after he leaves, following "an appropriate and seemly gap".

Unlike many in the colony Mr Patten seems to believe that, given time, Hong Kong's pro-democracy politicians, currently shunned by China, will be brought in from the cold. Sooner or later, he said, their voices will have to be acknowledged.

While many in the democracy camp are increasingly despondent, Mr Patten, a politician to the cuffs of his tailored shirts, believes their time will come and he will then be able to visit the new Hong Kong. As for the democrats themselves, they have largely written off the Governor. In the words of one legislator: "I doubt he'll spend much time thinking about us once he's gone."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • 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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing