Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997, it has remained one of Asia’s freest and most successful cities. But China’s tightening grip raises the question: What happened to “one country, two systems”?
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford.
Twenty years after Hong Kong changed from being governed at arm’s length from London to a Chinese sovereignty, it still remains one of the freest and most successful cities in Asia. Is that because of the guarantees made by Britain and China to Hong Kong? Not really. It is really because of the extent to which people in Hong Kong have a profound sense of what it means or should mean to be a citizen of a great city. It doesn’t make them less Chinese, but it does make them understand the relationship between pluralism, the rule of law, freedom of speech and all those bits of the software of democracy and their long-term prosperity.
China, in the last few years, has been rowing back on the promises it made to Hong Kong. It has been increasing its pressure on Hong Kong’s windpipe. It has been, frankly, breaching both the spirit and the letter of the treaty it signed with Britain for 50 years after 1997. It has done that by attacking the judiciary, it has done it by rolling back attempts to make Hong Kong more democratic. It has done it by intervening in court cases, by abducting people from Hong Kong’s streets, by a rather insidious pressure on the autonomy of education and on civil society, and its office in Hong Kong has increasingly tried to play a part in the running of the city.
I think it is very important that the whole world makes clear to China, and not just Britain, which has a particular role, but the whole world makes it clear to China that if they want to show that we can trust them in the 21st century, then Hong Kong is a very good place to start.