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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on