EX-Leader Discusses Hong Kong's Future

Lacking the fanfare that Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela enjoyed last week, Chris Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong, nevertheless met a small but enthusiastic audience when he spoke yesterday afternoon in Science Center C.

In his speech, Patten discussed topics ranging from Hong Kong's significance to China's influence on the future of capitalism.

Patten was the governor of Hong Kong for the five years before Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China in July 1997. "I'm the last imperial Governor of Hong Kong...the last colonial oppressor," Patten quipped.

Patten scorned the notion that Hong Kong is a "pimple in China's backside." His speech echoed many of the points he makes in his recent book, East and West: China, Power, and the Future of Asia.

The former governor characterized Hong Kong as China's link to the world and said it should serve as a model for China. In his book, he writes: "Hong Kong is at one and the same time China's window on the world, bridge to the world, shop front for the world and paradigm for the world of what China as a whole could become."

Patten, who promoted democracy in Hong Kong by setting up the first elected Legislative council and promoting human rights, has a well-established track record as an advocate for reform. His political leaning once prompted the Chinese government to label him "sinner of a thousand years."

In his speech, Patten stressed his devotion to human rights in Asia. There is "an appalling human rights record in China," he said, pledging that he would speak out "continuously and forcefully" on the issue.

China must recognize that securing political liberty is essential to economic success, he said.

Patten also exhibited some frustration with China, saying that many times he thought British and Chinese leaders had reached a clear agreement on Hong Kong only to have the arrangement disintegrate. "It's extremely important to be clear as to what you think you've agreed to with China and then stick with it," he said.

The former governor warned both against regarding China as too powerful and as regarding it as an enemy.

"I think there's always been a grotesque overestimate of China's power and a gross underestimate of China's sense of its best interest," he said.

After Patten finished, several audience members questioned the idea that democracy and capitalism are compatible given Asia's current instability.

One audience member asked about the apparent lack of concern about human rights abuses in Asia among business investors. Another questioned how unemployment created by privatization of business in Hong Kong will be dealt with under a democratic system.

Patten responded that capitalism and democracy were only tools for ultimately creating a free society: "I don't believe capitalism is enough, and I don't believe democracy is enough," he said.