Chris Patten, the Governor of Hong Kong, has urged the people of the colony to spend the last year and a half of British rule standing up for themselves, making their views known to the incoming Chinese administration.
He also made it clear that he thought that only hypocrites were criticising his administration for standing up to China.
Mr Patten was speaking yesterday during one of his regular radio broadcasts, which he uses to lay out aspects of government policy and thinking. This is by far his most outspoken broadcast, basically telling Hong Kong people that they have only themselves to blame if they remain silent about their fears.
"This is the time," he said, "if ever there was one, for speaking up and saying what one wants to happen."
He directly challenged suggestions by Chinese officials that he in particular, and the people in general, should be keeping their heads down for the next 500 days or so, describing this as a "extraordinary suggestion".
Mr Patten's remarks follow hard on the heels of an equally blunt message by the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, who visited Hong Kong last week, in part to tell its people that they could no longer rely on Britain to look after their interests, as there were aspects of policy now in Chinese hands which were beyond Britain's control.
The Governor pointedly told legislators, business leaders and members of "China's rather narrow circle of advisers in Hong Kong" that if they did not speak up, "no one else will do it for us".
He said that the people who believed in a policy of silence "have themselves the option of departing [from Hong Kong] with another passport to a company or to assets domiciled abroad if things don't work out here.
"I find it hard to understand their argument that it's fine to want the option of living in a free society oneself, but somehow wrong to stand up for everyone's right to go on living in a free society in Hong Kong."
The tenor of the Governor's remarks make it clear that he has no intention of spending the twilight months of British rule in the background, as has been urged on him by nervous business leaders.
This view is also held by some influential officials in the Foreign Office who believe Mr Patten is damaging both Hong Kong and British interests.Reuse content