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Chinese people love freedom, but the Chinese Communists hate it. Chris Patten, who served from 1992-97 as the last Governor of Hong Kong, argues in this interview that we must therefore stand up to the latter, who have become worse under the dictatorship of Xi Jinping:

“Hong Kong represents all the things that they hate. And it’s interesting that it’s not outsiders who got millions to march last year, in a protest against the destruction of the firewall between the rule of law in Hong Kong and what passes for Communist law on the mainland. 

“The idea that nowadays we have the ability to do that – we can barely organise a traffic jam in Kent, let alone a million people on the streets of Hong Kong. 

“They just can’t face the fact that Chinese people – look at Taiwan as well – love freedom, love a government that is accountable to some extent, love due process and the rule of law, love all those things as much as anybody else, so human rights really, really are universally valid.”

Patten adds that the Leninists who run the show in Beijing benefit from the help of “useful idiots” who “always make an excuse for China whatever it does”.

He thinks George Osborne made a serious error in 2015 by hailing a new “golden age” in Sino-British relations:

“I’m not sure what we have to show for this golden age except a Chinese ambassador in London who blags and bullies at every opportunity.”

From 1979-92, when he lost his seat to the Liberal Democrats, Patten was MP for Bath, serving from November 1990 as Conservative Party Chairman under John Major.

At the end of this interview, he expresses “a degree of contempt” for recent developments in the party:

“That the Conservative Party should turn itself into an organisation which whips up sentiment against Parliament, or those who are regarded as the elite, is a complete contradiction of what the Conservative Party has normally stood for.

“It’s turning the Conservative Party not into the party of Burke but into the party of Robespierre.”

ConHome: “When did you begin to think China was a menace?”

Patten: “Looking at the telegram sent by Sir Alan Donald [British ambassador in Beijing] on 5th June 1989 describing what had happened in Tiananmen Square, I recalled thinking at the time how much those events, that massacre, reflected the absolute determination of part of the leadership of the Communist Party to stay in power, even if it meant getting part of the army to shoot their own people.

“So I was never under any illusions when I went to Hong Kong as to why people in Hong Kong were nervous about the future.

“But while it made me determined to do what we could within the terms of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law to try to secure Hong Kong’s freedoms, I also began the period after 1997 not without hope.

“By and large, for the first 12 or 13 years it didn’t go too badly. I think what changed everything was the arrival of Xi Jinping, who was chosen I think partly because of what they thought was an attempted coup by Bo Xilai.

“And he reflected also a sense that things were starting to drift and the party was in danger of losing control.

“And really ever since he came in in 2012, 2013, the Communist leadership have cracked down everywhere, on dissidents, in Xinjiang with probably well over a million people locked up in what are in effect concentration camps, breaking their word in the South China Sea with the militarisation of atolls and bases, and behaviour towards Hong Kong.

“And I think a document which everyone should be aware of, and it’s had I think too little attention from people when looking at China, is a document called in a rather Orwellian way Communiqué Number Nine, sent out in 2013, not long after Xi Jinping became dictator, to warn the party and the government against the devils of liberal democracy.

“Anybody who says ‘We don’t want a cold war with China, we don’t want to regard China as an enemy’, I understand that sentiment, but the trouble is that China regards us an an enemy.

“China regards all the things we stand for as hostile to the continuance in power of the Chinese Communist regime. It’s not the people of China that are the problem. It’s Xi Jinping and his apparatchiks.

“So I think ever since 2013 I’ve become more nervous and I’ve said so.

“And I think what’s happened recently, the way in which the Xi Jinping dictatorship has taken advantage of the fact that the rest of the world is understandably obsessed with fighting the Coronavirus – which of course has got so much worse because of the initial cover-up by China – in order to flex their muscles, whether in relation to Taiwan, or fishing vessels in the South China Sea, and to try to turn the screws on Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong represents all the things that they hate. And it’s interesting that it’s not outsiders who got millions to march last year, in a protest against the destruction of the firewall between the rule of law in Hong Kong and what passes for Communist law on the mainland.

“The idea that nowadays we have the ability to do that – we can barely organise a traffic jam in Kent, let alone a million people on the streets of Hong Kong.

“They just can’t face the fact that Chinese people – look at Taiwan as well – love freedom, love a government that is accountable to some extent, love due process and the rule of law, love all those things as much as anybody else, so human rights really, really are universally valid.”

ConHome: “Given that things started going wrong in 2013, where does that leave George Osborne with his idea in 2015 of ‘a golden age’ in Sino-British relations?”

Patten: “Well it’s a golden age for Chinese bullying, that’s for sure. Look, there is no question that even though we have to have, with others, a much tougher approach to China, I don’t believe we would ever try to cut off all relationships with China.

“But there’s a difference between that and getting all sort of mushy and romantic and soft-headed about what China stands for.

“Why have the Germans now perfectly understandably got really nervous about predatory investment by China? In for example the robotics industry. Could a British or a German firm take over a robotics firm in China? Of course not.

“So George, who is otherwise a perfectly rational human being, George is persuaded during that visit to go to Urumqi, to go to Xinjiang.

“How much British trade is there in Urumqi? He went to Urumqi in order to please the Chinese, so that they could continue with the fiction that they were looking after Uighur Muslims.

“We were promised, as a result of this golden age, a huge amount of investment in the Northern Powerhouse, a billion in Sheffield for example. The last leader of Sheffield Council said last year, ‘Where did it go?’ It was like candyfloss. It never appeared.

“So I’m not sure what we have to show for this golden age except a Chinese ambassador in London who blags and bullies at every opportunity.”

ConHome: “Where does it come from, the Chinese regime’s contempt for human rights, the gross maltreatment which you’ve already referred to of the Uighurs, many other cases. Is it Leninist Communism or is it some other factor?”

Patten: “I think it’s Leninist Communism. After all, you can’t say it’s a cultural factor. Taiwan is a Chinese community, Hong Kong is a Chinese community, and in both of those people believe passionately in freedom.

“What you’ve got is Leninism complete with what I think Lenin called useful idiots.”

ConHome: “Who are the useful idiots?”

Patten: “People who can always make an excuse for China whatever it does. If the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] were marching up Colchester High Street someone would say that’s quite close to China so maybe we should understand they’ve just adjusted the border a bit.”

ConHome: “Apropos that, on the Huawei deal, GCHQ and so on were saying it’s all right.”

Patten: “Well can I just say one thing about our security services. I think they’re pretty good on their China, I think they’re fairly clear-headed.

“I don’t mean by that they’re hostile to China. I’m not hostile to China. I’m just very wary about this Chinese Communist regime.

“I think China is a fantastic civilisation. I’ve read huge amounts of Chinese history. One of the greatest novelists today is a Chinese, Ma Jian, who lives in London, and his book Beijing Coma  is one of the great works of the last part of the last century.

“I’m very, very positive about China, but I’m very, very negative about the Chinese Communist Party.”

ConHome: “And what should the British Government be doing now?”

Patten: “What I think the British Government should be doing now is pretty well what Tom Tugendhat and a group of Conservatives right across the board, and people from other parties, have been doing.

“Because it’s very important that it’s not just a Conservative Party issue. I think we should be looking at our relationship with China in every sector.

“Trade, education, investment, security, and seeing where they bend the rules, where we need to be absolutely clear about supply chains, about the independence of strategic industries, and act accordingly.

“But we need to do it across the board and we then need to discuss with our colleagues and friends where we can match things with them.

“For example, at the moment we allow friends and allies to be picked off. When the Australians asked for a full and open inquiry into where the Coronavirus arose and how it could then best be fought by knowing more about its origins, when they suggested that and the Chinese responded by saying ‘Huh!  We won’t buy your beef, we won’t buy your barley any more if you do that’, we should have made a fuss about it.”

ConHome: “Could we end on British politics. Is it conceivable that we could ever join the European Union?”

Patten: “I slightly doubt it. My children’s generation think we will. But it may be a rather different European Union, and would need to be as things move on.

“At the moment what concerns me about this is two things. First of all, I accept that we’re leaving the European Union, I mean we plainly are.

“I don’t like it, I think it’s shooting ourselves in both feet, but we’re doing it.

“But I want us to do it in the most sensible way for Britain, and I think the refusal to accept an extension so we can negotiate a better deal is another of those triumphs, which is so deeply unconservative, of ideology over reason and political good sense.

“And it’s infused of course as well with something which I regard with a degree of contempt. That the Conservative Party should turn itself into an organisation which whips up sentiment against Parliament, or those who are regarded as the elite, is a complete contradiction of what the Conservative Party has normally stood for.

“It’s turning the Conservative Party not into the party of Burke but into the party of Robespierre.”

ConHome: “Oh God! And what role does the present Prime Minister play in this?”

Patten: “Well I’m not sure that he does play a role in it. But inevitably, you whip up public against Parliament, public against experts, and then when you’re the elite, you behave worse than the elite did before. Which is I think where the Prime Minister’s principal adviser comes in.”

107 comments for: Interview with Chris Patten: We must stand up to the Communists in Beijing who hate freedom in Hong Kong

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