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Opinion | An open letter to Chris Patten: 'Eat your Hong Kong egg tarts. But spare us your British democracy'

By Philip Yeung, university teacher


Dear Lord Patten,

"If you want to know China," says a Canadian teacher, "stop reading Western newspapers." For that matter, I might also add, "stop buying your Hong Kong Diaries."

These days, if you read Western news reports, you might come to the inescapable conclusion that "China is not normal or nice." But you would only be half right. The  Chinese are incredibly nice, but China is not normal: Never in history has a country of this size chalked up so much progress in such a short span. As an overachiever, China is beyond normal.

As Britain's last governor in Hong Kong, you were presented with a golden opportunity to know China at close quarters. But you never did. You landed here like a tropical storm, ready to sweep away its status quo. You set about shaping the city according to your own values, convinced that they were morally superior to China's. You came with your mind closed, your eyes shut and your ears plugged.

For five years, you dragged yourself into nasty fights with Hong Kong's future sovereign over drastic attempts to remake the city into a "full democracy" which Britain never did until you came. Beijing was right to be suspicious. Subsequent events have vindicated their worst fears.

The truth is, you hardly know Hong Kong, but you nudged the city full-throttle into hyperactive politics.

No one doubts you have oodles of charm. But micro-level social charm cannot compensate for macro-level shortcomings. A fellow British wit once said that you are "the best foreign minister Britain never had." I beg to differ. A vital part of being governor of Hong Kong entailed dealing tactfully with the future sovereign of the city. And in this department, you were an unmitigated disaster, earning you the unforgettable epithet of "sinner for a thousand generations." You correctly called yourself "not quite the diplomat".  When it came to China, your diplomatic skills were put in cold storage.

No one has rendered a verdict on your governorship. I wonder how history will judge your tenancy in the governor's mansion.

Your electoral defeat in your home city of Bath sealed Hong Kong's fate, for you were gifted with the top job in this last colonial outpost as a consolation. You came determined to carve your place in history. But the trouble was, your political prescription was a solution in search of a problem. As a functioning civil society, Hong Kong was basking in the glory of its economic success. It didn't need your Pandora's Box, which unleashed a swarm of wicked demons that left our society a smoldering ruin.

Before you arrived, Hong Kong was notoriously apolitical. But, titanically, you converted its passive people into political animals. Politics ruled the day, tearing up the fabric of our community. You set a time-bomb ticking before you departed.

Your one singular success was to ensure that the umbilical cord between Britain and Hong Kong remains intact, aided and abetted by colonial-era perks that let our civil servants educate their kids in the UK at public expense. You pridefully recalled how deeply moved you were when as Chancellor of Oxford University, you attended a reunion in Hong Kong in which more than 100 local Oxford alumni sang God Save the Queen soulfully. So much for allegiance to the motherland.

You came as our self-appointed savior. But how can you honorably export democracy to us, when it is but a farce in your own country? Boris, the serial law-breaker was kicked out only 45 days ago, replaced by Lizz Truss who lasted all of 44 days at No. 10. Now Boris, the clown is back, threatening to repossess his playpen. None of the aspirational leaders are interested in the greater good, only in their own greater glory. Democracy is a bill of fake goods.

You fought hard to give us one person one vote, but in the Hong Kong context, that right is meaningless. Both of the two British-trained senior bureaucrat-turned chief executives were walking disasters—economically, Donald Tsang delivered the city to predatory developers, and politically, Carrie Lam plunged our society into the darkness of lawlessness. Who would enjoy voting either of these talentless and heartless duo into office?

The old Hong Kong is gone. When you return for another visit, what awaits you is a color-divided society--either Yellow (for anti-establishment) or Blue (for pro-establishment), and never the twain shall meet. This is your legacy. Meanwhile, Hong Kong is in the grip of near-monopolies. Its GDP has been overtaken by Shenzhen, until recently a provincial backwater. While Hong Kong was consumed by "democratic" politics, its neighbor was busy reinventing itself as the Silicon Valley of the East. Beijing does not hesitate to smash up monopolies for the good of the masses. But here, officials were too busy hobnobbing with tycoons. Pampered senior civil servants--this, too, is your legacy.

Democracy is overrated. It has been oversold by misguided politicians of which you are one. For the past few years, the faces of democracy are a pair of buffoons with big egos, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson—described graphically by a cartoonist as "two cheeks of the same arse".  Both are called "lying, degenerate hypocrites" by the press, both are terrible liars. One was accused by 20 women of rape or sexual assault, the other of having one set of laws for others and another for himself.  In surveys by Harvard and Toronto's York University, China was the only country whose government enjoys a 90%+ trust by its people. How do you square this cognitive dissonance with your democratic values?

I suggest you stick to eating the mouth-watering Hong Kong egg-tarts, and toss the messy fight over empty values into the dustbin of history. The ongoing saga of eye-watering British politics ought to shame you into silence. If you can't sell Boris to Britain, how can you sell democracy to Hong Kong?


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

Read more articles by Philip Yeung:

Opinion | How an open and free society was destroyed by scorched-earth 'freedom fighters'

Opinion | UN Standards, US Standards, Double-Standards

Opinion | Which is the world's best political party?


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