The “high degree of autonomy” promised to Hong Kong by Beijing has been eroded over the last two decades, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, Chris Patten, said on Wednesday.
Although the worst case scenarios have not played out, the former British colony has seen its promised autonomy get dented after the 1997 handover, he said.
Appearing before a US Congressional panel via a video link, Patten said the rule of law in Hong Kong, as well as the locals’ identity as “Hong Kong Chinese”, makes Hongkongers unique, compared to people from big mainland cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Patten praised Hong Kong citizens for being brave enough to take part in the Occupy Central pro-democracy protests in 2014, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The former colonial governor added that it is regrettable that the British government has not spoken out enough on China’s blatant violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the pact that was signed by Beijing and Britain prior to Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.
At the hearing held in Washington by the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was one of the invitees, along with veteran democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming.
Also invited by the panel, which was chaired by Senator Marco Rubio, was Lam Wing-kee, a Hong Kong bookseller who had once been detained by mainland authorities.
The hearing was aimed at helping the panel to assess Hong Kong’s situation, two decades after its handover to China in 1997.
It came as Senator Rubio has been trying to push forward the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act”, a move aimed at helping uphold the basic freedom of Hong Kong people.
Martin Lee and Lam Wing-kee both supported the idea.
During the hearing, student leader Wong was asked, among other things, whether the “Hong Kong model” can be sustained.
Wong said the “One Country, Two Systems” has already become “One Country, 1.5 system”, and that he fears it will become dominated by just one system in future.
In other comments, he said members of the pan-democratic camp could face political persecution as Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to travel to Hong Kong for the handover 20th anniversary celebrations in July.
Lee agreed that Hong Kong is under great threat, as he noted that democracy has yet to come despite 20 years after the handover.
The veteran Hong Kong democrat said he hopes that the US will continue to stand up to China against the latter’s breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Lam Wing-kee said the Hong Kong booksellers saga, which saw some people being abducted and detained by mainland authorities, was solid evidence that the Chinese government has violated the Basic Law multiple times to deprive Hong Kong people of their freedom of speech.
Coming back to Patten, the former colonial governor reiterated his belief that “Hong Kong Independence” is impossible.
He urged Hong Kong people to think of ways to work within the current framework.
When asked about Hong Kong’s recent chief executive election, Patten said that if he had come out in support of his former personal secretary John Tsang, who was one of the candidates, the endorsement would probably have done more harm than good for Tsang.
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