China Politics

China has set out to 'destroy the Hong Kong which has been so successful for decades,' city's last governor says

Key Points
  • Hong Kong's last British governor spoke to CNBC on Tuesday, a week after Beijing implemented the Hong Kong national security bill.
  • Opponents of the law say it undermines the Hong Kong autonomy that was promised to the city when it was handed over from the U.K. to China. Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
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The last British governor of Hong Kong has accused the Chinese Communist Party of setting out to "destroy" the Chinese territory by implementing a national security law there.

"What the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has set out to do is to destroy the Hong Kong which has been so successful for decades — one of the freest cities in the world and a great Asian financial hub, and they've done it in a traditional way," said Chris Patten, who was governor of Hong Hong until the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

CNBC reached out to the Hong Kong government and the Communist Party of China for comment but has not heard back. However, the Beijing government says the law is aimed at prohibiting secession, subversion of state power, terrorism activities and foreign interference.

Patten was speaking to CNBC's Karen Tso and Julianna Tatelbaum on Tuesday, one week after Beijing passed and implemented the Hong Kong national security bill.

Opponents of the law, such as U.K. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, say it undermines Hong Kong's autonomy that was promised when the special administrative region was handed over to China in 1997.

Under the "one country, two systems" policy, the territory has a largely separate legal and economic system from the mainland that reflects its British colonial heritage. That framework — known as the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China — was supposed to be in place until 2047.

Citing American sinologist Perry Link, Patten said that China's "rule by fear" rather than "rule of law" is like an anaconda in the chandelier — a metaphor referring to the power of self-censorship in China. "You never knew quite when it was going to drop but you knew there was always a danger of it dropping on you," Patten added.

Patten said it was a "comprehensive dismantling of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary" in Hong Kong and "very bad news" for the city which depends on the rule of law and the freedom of information to be successful.

Mass protests

Since last year, Hong Kong has seen months of prolonged pro-democracy protests that sometimes turned violent, and injured both police and protesters.

The Hong Kong government has welcomed the new legislation as "both necessary and urgent" and said it will "restore stability in Hong Kong society as soon as possible."

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Hong Kong should have set up a public inquiry to look into accusations of police brutality when handling the protests, said Patten.

Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam has rejected the suggestion of a full inquiry into police handling of protests in the city. 

"I certainly do not feel that with all these established mechanisms in place we should subject our police forces — which is working day in and day out to protect Hong Kong from all these criminal offences — to subject them to another sort of investigation," Lam told CNBC in January this year.

Patten also said Hong Kong should not have introduced a now-scrapped extradition bill law in the first place, as it triggered massive protests for months last year.

Beijing introduced the new national security law for Hong Kong because the people of Hong Kong stand on the side of democracy, said Patten.

"The verdict of people in Hong Kong was clear in the district council elections in November — the Pan-Democrats pretty well swept the board," he said.

China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council and Central Committee of Communist Party of China International Department did not immediately respond to CNBC's email seeking responses to Patten's statements.

— CNBC's Evelyn Cheng and Abigail Ng contributed to this report.