Patten to students: this is no nation state

SCMP  CITY1  |   CITY  |   By Ng Kang-chung 2016-11-29

In a surprising move, former governor Chris Patten has waded into the debate about what qualities a "good chief executive" should possess, while also pulling no punches in rebuking students who aspire for independence.

Patten said the chief executive should be a representative of Hong Kong's people. But when asked to assess Leung Chun-ying's performance and discuss who should be the city's next leader, he said: "I wouldn't dream of interfering in the process."

He went on to say: "I think a good chief executive in any governing system should listen to a wide group of people and be decisive ... and mobilise consent.

"He should be able to represent Hong Kong to Beijing and the international community, and not be thought to be Beijing's representative in Hong Kong."

Patten was speaking to the press after a seminar with students at the University of Hong Kong yesterday.

During the two-hour talk, he took about 13 questions from students, many of whom challenged his views on Hong Kong's independence. Among them were localist lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and independence activist Edward Leung Tin-kei.

Patten did not mince words, telling students: "I am going to say something which you may not want to hear: Hong Kong is a great society. It is not a nation state."

Leung questioned why Hong Kong should not separate from China. Patten replied: "I am a huge admirer of China, Chinese culture, Chinese history, Chinese art … I am not a great fan of Leninism or the Chinese Communist Party.

"But the Communist Party is at present ruling China. If you think in the next two to five years, you can overthrow the party and Hong Kong can become independent, I just think you are deceiving yourself."

He reinforced his support for democracy, but also reiterated views he had put forth during a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club last week, warning against confusing universal suffrage with independence, adding pro-independence antics served only to erode support for democracy at home and worldwide.

The full-house event was jointly organised by the Project Citizens Foundation and the students' union of HKU.

Patten, 72, was the last governor of Hong Kong, serving from 1992 until the 1997 handover.

He is now a member of the House of Lords and the chancellor of the University of Oxford.