Patten still upbeat on HK transition: Governor tells MPs political dispute with China will not hold back colony's development

IT WAS an impressive performance. Chris Patten was back in the Palace of Westminster. He spoke to MPs, not as a member of the Cabinet, but as Governor of Hong Kong, explaining Britain's confrontation with China over the colony's 'extremely moderate aspirations' for democracy.

In testimony before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee he denied he alone was driving policy on Hong Kong and dismissed scathing criticism from the group of retired foreign office mandarins, led by Sir Percy Cradock, Margaret Thatcher's former foreign policy adviser, that Mr Patten was being 'indefensibly reckless' and should back down to prevent a backlash after Peking resumed sovereignty of the colony in 1997.

'If you have never got a bottom line,' Mr Patten rejoined, 'if there is always a lower ground floor whenever people think you have got to the bottom of the lift shaft, then I don't think you get very good settlements out of negotiations.'

The Governor gave a surprisingly upbeat assessment of Hong Kong's future. He believed the failure to agree on political matters would not hold back the colony's development, nor affect Anglo-Chinese trade. But Britain's decency and honour were on the line in the face of 'irrational and largely rhetorical' attacks from China over plans to introduce democratic reforms for local body elections this year and Legislative Council elections next year. The arrangements were the last great issue in the transition to Peking sovereignty in 1997, he said.

'We are not trying to increase the pace of democratisation in Hong Kong,' Mr Patten declared. 'What we are trying to do is insure that an agreed process of democratisation is credible and fair.' The government's proposals represented the middle ground of Hong Kong opinion and were necessary to safeguard its prosperity and way of life.

'I would like agreement (with China), if an honourable agreement in Hong Kong's interests is achievable. But a bad agreement, an agreement which did not guarantee credible elections would be very bad for Hong Kong. If we upend the level playing-field for elections to the legislature (which makes the laws), what would that do for the independence and impartiality of the judiciary that has to enforce them? . . . I do not see how you can possibly guarantee the rule of law in Hong Kong if the arrangement for the election of its legislative body are fundamentally flawed.'

The House of Commons committee is conducting hearings into Britain's relations with China in the run-up to 1997. Peking claims that the so-called Patten proposals violate the 1984 Joint Declaration which enshrined the principle of 'one country, two systems' and guaranteed elections and autonomy for Hong Kong as a special administrative region of China when Britain gave up its control.

There was laughter when Mr Patten quoted Sir David Akers-Jones, a former acting governor of Hong Kong and now adviser to the Chinese government, as saying it was not China's style to rig elections, but Peking did like to know the results before they were held.

Asked if he thought a referendum was appropriate to test Hong Kong opinion following the breakdown in negotiations between Britain and China last month, Mr Patten said it 'won't tell us anything we don't already know' - that there was overwhelming support for the proposals. Nor did he wish to tweak Peking's tail. 'The Chinese would see a referendum as the ultimate sin because it gives the people a right to self-determination.'

He hoped 'fervently and sincerely' that talks with China would resume, though time was very short. 'At any time when the Chinese give us the nod our officials will be on the plane to Peking.' Should the stalemate continue, Britain would go ahead with its plans to widen the franchise and publish a 'factual account' of the talks showing why they had failed.

Mr Patten dismissed threats that the People's Liberation Army might invade before 1997 as 'part of the Wagnerian background music which the people of Hong Kong have listened to'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness