WASHINGTON/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Countries should not be afraid to stand up to China over democratic rights in Hong Kong, the last British governor of the territory said on Thursday.
Chris Patten rejected Chinese charges that Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters were puppets of foreigners as a “slur” on a “wonderfully principled” movement.
It was important to stand up for principles and ridiculous to suggest that to do so carried the risk of economic damage, Patten told a U.S. commission via a video link from London.
“China’s exports to the United States went up by 1,600 percent in 15 years,” he said. “So who need whom?”
The comments came the same day as a U.S. Congressional advisory committee report took aim at China’s plan to pre-screen candidates in Hong Kong’s next chief executive election in 2017, showing how the world’s two biggest economies are increasingly being pulled into conflict over political reform in the city.
During the two months that street protests have roiled the city of 7 million, the United States has said it supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with local law.
The report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission went further, saying China’s plan conflicts with the city’s laws and runs counter to its international commitments.
It also said China’s growing military presence in the city serves to “intimidate pro-democracy activists” and that recent violence against journalists and pressure on advertisers “appears to be targeted at outspoken pro-democracy media”.
China’s Foreign Ministry re-iterated that foreign countries should not “interfere” with Hong Kong politics while the Hong Kong government issued a scathing reply, calling the report “biased”, “unfounded” and “misleading”. Though it has stopped short of naming any countries, China has repeatedly accused “foreign forces” of fomenting unrest in Hong Kong.
Patten also has accused Britain of not putting enough pressure on China to stick to a pact on the transfer of Hong Kong because it was worried about damaging trade links.
He praised U.S. President Barack Obama for a speech in Brisbane last weekend in which he pledged to stand up for human rights in the region.
The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China to whom Patten was speaking put forward a bill last week calling for a renewed U.S. commitment to democracy and autonomy in Hong Kong.
The bill would update a 1992 act that treats Hong Kong differently than China on trade and economic matters, and requires Obama to certify the territory is sufficiently autonomous before enacting new laws or agreements.
China resumed control of the British colony in 1997 through a “one country, two systems” formula that allows wide-ranging autonomy and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu in HONG KONG and Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Jason Szep, Andre Grenon and Kim Coghill