Peking replies with its own barrage of scorn

It is no surprise that China is blaming Chris Patten for Britain's protest this week about Peking's proposed amendments to Hong Kong's laws. "This was an angry act by Chris Patten who was ashamed that his long-time confrontation with China had been unfruitful," said Zhang Junsheng, deputy director of Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong, China's de facto diplomatic representation in the colony.

But while Mr Patten will remain China's most-despised adversary in Hong Kong, Peking's strategy these days is primarily one of scorn. Gone are the days when the mainland newspapers weekly vilified the Hong Kong Governor as "a man of guilt for 1,000 generations", "the whore", "the serpent", "the tango dancer", and someone who should be consigned to "the dustbin of history".

The colourful invective is no more. These days the Chinese propaganda machine prefers to dismiss Mr Patten as a man who failed in his attempt to outwit China - when, that is, they bother to mention him at all. This week, in response to Mr Patten's attack on China's moves to dilute the Bill of Rights as "legal nonsense", the foreign ministry spokesman, Shen Guofang, merely shrugged off the governor's "so-called statement". It is lame stuff, by comparison with what came before.

From China's point of view, Mr Patten is a Governor who is simply sitting out the next five months before departing into the sunset of British colonial rule. China's leaders are confident that they now call the shots, with suitable support from leading Hong Kong figures. Protests from Britain are similarly given short shrift now by China, which maintains that the departing colonial power has no right to interfere in internal Chinese affairs.

"We cannot accept the British protest, it is also totally unreasonable and the so-called protest is unwise," Mr Shen said yesterday, after Wednesday's summons by the Foreign Office to China's ambassador in London to lodge Britain's "serious concern". "The British side is always forcing its will upon others and this will not work," said Mr Shen.

From now on, anything which China does in Hong Kong will be presented as righting the wrongs of the Patten administration. Mr Shen yesterday said China's plan to amend or repeal the 25 laws and ordinances was merely reversing unilateral changed made by Mr Patten and Britain. "It is fair and reasonable," Mr Shen insisted.

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