The last British governor of Hong Kong said China has betrayed the territory by tightening control over the city it had promised could keep freedoms not found on the mainland.
“What we are seeing is a new Chinese dictatorship,” Chris Patten told an interview with The Times of London. “I think the Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China, which has proved once again that you can’t trust it further than you can throw it.”
He said the British government “should make it clear that what we are seeing is a complete destruction of the Joint Declaration,” a legal document under which the former British colony was returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework.
It gives Hong Kong its own legal system and Western-style freedoms until 2047. But many fear those are being chipped away after authorities clamped down on massive pro-democracy protests that rocked the city last year.
Last week, Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers sharply criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s move to enact national security legislation in the territory, which was submitted on the opening day of the regime’s rubber-stamp legislature. It would forbid secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference and terrorism.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the move “a death knell for the high degree of autonomy” that Beijing had promised Hong Kong.
Patten told the Times he believed that “one country, two systems,” the treaty logged at the United Nations, would be enough to protect Hong Kong’s capitalist economy and its way of life.
“China cheats, it tries to screw things in its own favor, and if you ever point this out their ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats try to bully and hector you into submission,” he said. “It’s got to stop otherwise the world is going to be a much less safe place and liberal democracy around the world is going to be destabilized.”
He called on Britain to do more to stand up to the CCP and protect Hong Kong under its legal obligations.
“Britain has a moral, economic and legal duty to stand up for Hong Kong,” he said. “The real danger is that we are entirely limp on this. We have obligations because we signed the agreement … If we don’t have any responsibilities for the people of Hong Kong and their way of life, who do we have responsibility for?”
In a joint statement organized by Patten and former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, 186 law and policy leaders, including 17 members of the U.S. Congress, on Saturday decried Beijing’s proposed laws are a “comprehensive assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms” and “flagrant breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration that returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.
“If the international community cannot trust Beijing to keep its word when it comes to Hong Kong, people will be reluctant to take its word on other matters,” they wrote.
U.S. officials have said the Chinese legislation would be bad for the economies of both Hong Kong and China and could jeopardize the territory’s special status in U.S. law.
Some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans—Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Senator Ted Cruz—signed the statement. Democratic signatories included Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representatives Eliot Engel, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
Forty-four members of Britain’s House of Commons and eight members of its House of Lords also signed the statement, alongside figures from across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.
Reuters contributed to this report