Lord Chris Patten, former and last governor of British Hong Kong and British empire’s last colonial governor, was recently in town again after having made several visits since the 1997 Handover when he promised that “the barbarians always return”.
Return he did, and quite barbaric. At a luncheon speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club Mr Patten blasted over Brexit, Donald Trump and the Youngspiration pair in the rhetoric that was largely a hangover from his colonial days.
As when he was governor, Mr Patten vehemently defended free trade and American leadership. Citing trade statistics and corresponding effects on economic growth and poverty reduction in emerging markets, Mr Patten reiterated his fear of an imminent destruction of what he called a new international economic order by the Brexit reality and a Trump presidency. After denouncing Brexit for destroying this new sweeping economic order which Mr Patten believed has benefited everyone in both developed and developing countries, he went on to express his worry of losing American leadership in a post-war global liberal and security order under Mr Trump.
Mr Patten then went on accusing the Younspiration pair’s oath-taking antics as something that dilute support for real democracy in Hong Kong and something that should not happen in a mature society aiming to become a full democracy. Mr Patten, who was on record of testifying before Australian and Canadian parliaments in support of 2014 Umbrella Movement, contrasted the pair with what he called a peaceful and mature demonstration on high moral ground and a sensible effort to strengthen democracy in Hong Kong, referring to the 79-day occupy movement. The contrast then went on to his own swearing-ins throughout his political career and similar disobedient actions of Northern Irish Sinn Fein MPs.
However, Mr Patten’s debut comeback blast was at odd with what themed his speech the next day at a Project Citizens Forum named “Governance in Hong Kong: Are the Pillars Crumbling?” Strong citizens and the confidence of the people, this time, were the foundations of a good governance blueprint put forward by Mr Patten.
Stressing on the broad common relevance of various attributes of good governance, Mr Patten particularly emphasised on the universality of good governance whilst acknowledged that there is no perfect model of government. A good political arrangement, according to Mr Patten, goes right into the economic fundamentals and livelihood issues. Meantime, sustainable economic success and good governance are interconnected.
Mr Patten went on to outline individual features of a well-governed community. Rule of law came first on Mr Patten’s list and is to Mr Patten the most important guarantee of Hong Kong’s freedom, stability and well-being, which largely depends on an independent judiciary and court system. Mr Patten then goes into the details of voice and accountability in a democratic system, that is citizens’ voice in the way their community is run and an open and effective way of holding those who run it to account. An open and fair election system and the respect for minority are central elements to its realisation. Mr Patten then put forth the concept of government effectiveness, which is only made possible by subjecting the powerful into close invigilation trough a democratic process and quality civil service. The Hong Kong civil service in the 1990s was to Mr Patten the finest he had ever known. Political stability and lack of violence were also to Mr Patten distinctive features of a well governed society. Quality policing, fairly distributed growing prosperity and a government that is sensitive to people’s aspiration are pillars to attain and sustain this goal.
On a final note at the forum when I was in attendance, Mr Patten particularly stressed on the importance of corruption control and the role free press plays in this mission, particularly the empowerment a free media has in citizens, the heart of good governance.
However, What Mr Patten did not tell us is that, for all his good intentions of enlightening citizens hence building a fine governance reality, ignoring citizens’ popular quest for what is essential to the vast majority of ordinary and decent people will make his concept for ever academic.
Mr Patten’s headmasterly monologue to a journalist audience is to a large extent the continuance of his colonial fantasy which would even make Cecil Rhodes utterly ashamed. Ignoring the common aspiration of ordinary and decent British people in regaining sovereignty, thus the God-given rights for a people to allocate resources, control borders and decide on whom to sell and where to buy is a reflection of this ugly truth. What Mr Patten perhaps need to realise is the irrelevance of today’s European Union. It was a noble ideal in the post-war years when connecting former foes economically was a genuine way of preventing attacks on fellow EU members because the intruder would equally devastate itself. Time has long gone and it is no longer relevant today.
What Mr Patten also needs to be lectured on is the dare consequences of American exceptionalism which had caused grave sufferings both to its own people and to many peoples around the world. It is American aggression and retrospection for over half a century that has made people killed, economies devastated, power vacuums created, international monetary order distorted and eventually the ordinary and decent Americans inflicted. Mr Patten perhaps should celebrate Mr Trump’s conviction to right this historical wrong and contribute his part in its fulfilment.
Mr Patten was once widely revered in Hong Kong for his willingness to enlarge Legislative Council Functional Constituency voter base and reform Executive Council toward a representative government. It seems had long sailed away with his departure almost twenty years ago, leaving only a hollow hole of what can no longer be called the ideal for a representative democracy. Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-ching, on the contrary, embodied exactly what Mr Patten termed strong citizens. They not only personified complicated political concepts of sovereignty of the people and separation of powers and aroused long oppressed souls, particularly those of the young people, from mundane or activist lives, but ventured into a much more dangerous arena on their free will that directly stroke the dictators’ worst nightmare – a spark for the populace to sacrifice for a common purpose. Mr Leung and Ms Yau dared to pursue the delusional and gave their all to tell the world that impossibility does in no way lead to submissiveness. History has proved time and again that ignoring popular quest, an unshakable pillar under Mr Patten’s fine governance blueprint, will lead to perilous inevitables that the wiser of us should strive to prevent, before it is too late.
I very much hope Mr Patten’s egg tarts are still warm, a flavour that could bring him to where history truly leads and what the ordinary and decent people truly aspire in this fatalistic era of great struggle.
By Hongyu Wang on 03 December 2016