Lord Patten calls for unified diplomatic action to uphold Joint Declaration at Foreign Affairs Committee

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On 8 January, Lord Patten of Barnes, the last Governor of Hong Kong, called for unified diplomatic action by international actors in order to ensure that the Joint Declaration is upheld during his remarks at the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. His remarks covered a range of topics including ways the Universal Periodic Review, the Public Order Ordinance, the erosion of freedom under Xi Jinping and his admiration for young pro-democracy protestors. 

Responding to a question about what the United Kingdom should do in response to the erosion of freedom in Hong Kong, Lord Patten said that it is vital that the United Kingdom to “take the Joint-Declaration seriously.”

He said: “Recently, when a group of MPs said something about events in Hong Kong, the Chief Executive declared ‘none of your business. But the Joint Declaration is an international treaty lodged at the United Nations.”

Noting that China have reneged on their WTO commitments, he said: “If China cannot be trusted on this treaty, why should they be trusted on other treaties?” 

Lord Patten continued to note that the United Kingdom should work with “Australians, New Zealand and the Americans” to share expertise and take unified diplomatic action in response to further erosions of freedoms or the rule of law in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Lord Patten noted the unprecedented number of UPR recommendations made to Hong Kong.  

He said that it was important for Western powers to promote human rights and the rule of law in their engagement with Hong Kong: 

“Whenever you produce criticisms, the Chinese government or the Chinese Ambassador say that this ‘Anti-Chinese’ or you are ‘attacking the Chinese people’. Nobody is attacking the Chinese people. If we are sane, we all want a prosperous, stable China playing a prominent role in global affairs. What we are critical of is a Chinese Communist regime or a Chinese Communist dictatorship, which is what it is now. And I don’t think it is unreasonable for us to occasionally assert our own values in responding to that.” 

Lord Patten also critiqued those who accused young pro-democracy activists of being “radicals”. “It’s absurd, they’re extraordinarily moderate,” he said in reference to the 2014 pro-democracy protests. 

“These young people have a real and profound sense of citizenship, a sense of citizenship which is very Chinese, which is very patriotic but believes in the rule of law, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and academic freedom…”

He continued to express concerns about the “vengeful pursuit of peaceful demonstrators.” He highlighted the way that the justice department has “resurrected colonial ordinances” to pursue punitive sentencing and that this puts the “judiciary in a very difficult position”.  

Finally, Lord Patten made observations about changes in the situation under President Xi Jinping. 

"For the first 10 to 15 years, after Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty, one-country, two-systems worked pretty well although it wasn't perfect. There were no questions about the rule of law, freedom of speech and so on and so on. It was still probably one of the freest cities in Asia.

That changed pretty decisively with Xi Jinping... Anybody… who tells you that nothing has changed in Hong Kong, can’t be listening to what anybody in Hong Kong’s saying.”

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