Last Hong Kong governor Chris Patten asks UK to watch out for Beijing interference in city affairs

Stuart Lau

Britain’s last colonial governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, has asked the UK government to watch out for Chinese attempts to interfere with the city’s affairs while the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

He made the plea to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as the ruling Conservative Party toughens up China policies, amid what many party members see as Beijing’s deliberate failures to be transparent about the initial Covid-19 outbreaks.

The call also comes amid growing worry among Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists, as police have rounded up dissidents and Beijing authorities have stepped up the rhetoric of national security concerns.

Patten, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government’s handling of Hong Kong affairs, said: “I hope we can … count on the British government to call out China for its breaches of the [Sino-British] Joint Declaration and to watch carefully for future attempts by Beijing to undermine the rule of law and to corrupt the electoral process in the months ahead.”

The declaration provided for Hong Kong’s status quo until 2047.

The Foreign Office has not responded to an inquiry by the Post on Patten’s letter.

Citing their roles in unlawful protests, Hong Kong police rounded up at least 15 opposition camp activists earlier this month, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and prominent barrister Martin Lee Chu-ming, known as the city’s “father of democracy”.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that his department’s upcoming assessment of Hong Kong’s autonomy reflect the recent wave of arrests.

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Patten also asked the British government to investigate the origin of the coronavirus.

“I would be grateful for your assurance that the British government will press for an expert mission to Wuhan and will encourage other countries to do the same,” he wrote, underscoring the need to “make sure that we know everything about the nature of the virus in order to fight it effectively. We also need to prevent anything similar happening in the future.”

On Wednesday, Britain’s ambassador to the US Karen Pierce backed calls for an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus and the response of the World Health Organisation.

“We need to learn after all these crises, just as we did after Ebola in 2014. We need to learn how we can always do things better,” she said.

The comments came after Britain’s foreign affairs parliamentary committee asked the government whether it planned to use international bodies to hold China to account over the Covid-19 pandemic.

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