ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS
MAY 7, 1996
On July 1, 1997 Hong Kong returns to China's control. Its fiercely democratic governor is in the U.S. to strengthen economic ties to the West. Elizabeth Farnsworth looks at 150 years of British rule and talks to Governor Christopher Patten, the man in charge of moving Hong Kong from British to Chinese control.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, 420 days before Hong Kong reverts to Chinese sovereignty. We are joined by the territory's governor, Christopher Patten. Thank you for being with us.
CHRISTOPHER PATTEN, Governor, Hong Kong: I'm delighted to be here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One of the reasons that you're here, as we've just mentioned, is to argue for Most Favored Nation status for Hong Kong and by extension China. Why?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Well, because the next year is going to be a very sensitive and difficult one for Hong Kong, and I want to make it easier rather than more difficult. I'm not here arguing the case for China. I'm not arguing for China's human rights record or China's record on intellectual property. China will have to make the case for those things, if it can. What I'm saying is that it would be hugely damaging to us in Hong Kong if we were to lose -- if China was to lose Most Favored Nation status. It would mean about a hundred thousand increase in our jobless figure. It would halve our growth rate, and that would make it much more difficult, I think, for us to sustain a free society and a successful society at this important moment in our history.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some might see your quest as contradictory, to be arguing for Most Favored Nation status, which really is for China, since if you're arguing for Hong Kong, you're arguing for China, at the same time as China is threatening to close the legislature that your policies made possible.
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Well, it's interesting that Martin Lee, who's the most successful and popular democratic leader in Hong Kong and a very brave man too was here making the same case in Washington a few weeks ago. Both of us feel passionately strongly that it's important to protect Hong Kong's human rights and the promises that were made by China among others for the development of democracy in Hong Kong, but we don't think that the best way of standing up for those and for those values is by hurting Hong Kong's living standards, by throwing people out of work, by depressing the amount of money that they've got in their pockets. I don't think that's the best way of proceeding. I don't like mixing up trade and human rights issues.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This committee that's overseeing the transition, they call it the preparatory committee, not only has spoken out about the provisional or about the legislative council, but also about other things that are happening right now. Could you tell us about that. They've made certain demands, have they not?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: It's an interesting example of Chinese behavior. They've made demands for cooperation. Now normally with people you actually request cooperation. It's a two-way street. Anyway, put that on one unfortunate side, and they've made a number of demands; some of them we're perfectly happy to accommodate. They do have to prepare for the government of the special administrative region, as it'll be known after 1997, and there are things that we can do in good faith, providing them with information, making it easier for them to hold their meetings and so on.
But there are some things which are just not on. And they want us to actually assist in the establishment of this puppet legislature that they're talking about. We won't have anything to do with that. We're not going to do anything at all which undermines the credibility of the work of our freely elected legislative council, and I very much hope that they'll have second thoughts about winding that body up or trying to because if they do try to wind it up they're not going to snuff out democracy in Hong Kong. They're not going to do that for a moment but they will provoke some of the sort of political disturbance and turbulence which they say they dislike.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think they're trying to consolidate their control now in these coming months before they take power, that's what's happening?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: I think there is an element of that. I think, to be honest, that they're nervous about taking responsibility for Hong Kong, despite all the promises that have been made to Hong Kong. If they were a bit more relaxed about Hong Kong, they'd learn that there's nothing to worry about. Hong Kong's an extremely moderate, reasonable, sensible place. We've got the beginnings of a political debate, political dialogue in Hong Kong, which is conducted in a very responsible way. Hong Kong is hugely successful partly because it's a free society. And I think Chinese officials have got to try to understand the relationship between Hong Kong's freedom and its prosperity and success.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you fear that they're reneging on the "one country-two systems" promise?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Well, it would be an appalling blow for Hong Kong and for the region were they to do so, and I think they understand the extent to which delivering on that promise is going to be regarded by the United States and by others as a sort of litmus test for the way they behave on the international stage.
It's also, of course, the case that "one country-two system" was meant for Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong, so there's some sort of read across. It has to be said there's a read across from how they treat Taiwan to Hong Kong as well. But I hope they won't reside from those promises and any suggestion that they were doing so or any actual retreat from those promises would, I think, produce in due course a considerable response from the United Kingdom and from other countries as well, but let's hope that they learn over the next year to be a little less nervous about Hong Kong, to trust Hong Kong and to recognize that Hong Kong represents the future in Asia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What can you do, what can the United Kingdom do if they do back off of this promise?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Well, it's obviously unreasonable of me to make assumptions about their bad behavior in the future. I hope that they will behave as they've promised they will. What Britain can do would depend on how they broke their word and how substantial the breeches were, but Hong Kong's future is guaranteed in an international treaty lodged at the United Nations signed by Britain and China. It guarantees Hong Kong's well-being for 50 years after 1997. That means that Britain has to stay interested, has to hang in there, and will hang in there. We're not on the 30th of June next year going to wash our hands Pontius Pilate-like of Hong Kong and say "now let's try to get on with normal life." It's terribly important to us that we're seen to have wound up this last chapter in our empire story honorably and decently and competently, unlike almost every other colony. We haven't been in the position of being able to bring this one to independence. History dictated otherwise, but it's still an important job to make sure that it stays a free city.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some Hong Kong business leaders -- I believe including one who's been on your cabinet and who pushed for the legislative council and the elections have now begun to work with China more closely on the preparatory committee and are not standing up for the legislative council. Can you explain that? What's happening there?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Well, I think there are some businessmen who've taken the view that the best way of getting on with China is to avoid a row at all costs. And first of all, that's extremely short-sighted because the rule of law and the freedoms of Hong Kong are one of the reasons for Hong Kong's success and one of the reasons why they're so fabulously rich, and they haven't become rich in a Leninist society. They've become rich in a free society. Secondly, there's hardly one of these people who doesn't have a foreign passport in his back pocket, so they want the insurance of a free society for themselves but seem to think that it doesn't matter too much for the 5 1/2 million plus people in Hong Kong who don't have a foreign passport. Now I've got to think about everybody in Hong Kong, not just those with a lot of money in their bank accounts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You will be hauling down the Union Jack, if not actually, then figuratively. You've had a very interesting political career. You've had many, many posts. Did you think this would be your rule as a historic?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Well, when I was offered the job and offered some other jobs in domestic politics as well, I took the view that this was important, that it was interesting, that it was in some people's view impossible and that it would put me in a position where I could, if I could do the job competently, make a difference and help to secure a better future and a better life for 6 million people. I hope that we can end the story that we've written with some distinction with the people of Hong Kong. I hope that we can finish that story well. Hong Kong is a fantastic city, and I'm sure it'll continue successfully in the future.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Has it been more difficult than you anticipated?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: It hasn't been a push over, and it's not going to be a push over for the next year. But, what I know that we can count on is the increasing interest of the rest of the world because this is going to be one hell of a story next year, and I hope that it's a successful one.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you foresee, if you look ahead, what do you foresee for Hong Kong, first in five years and then in ten?
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Right. I'm pretty confident about Hong Kong, not mindlessly bullish about it, but I'm reasonably confident because I think that the things that Hong Kong represents, the values it represents, are what Asia and what the world are going to be like. I also think there's a tremendous resilience of -- in the people of Hong Kong. It's a refugee community. It has all the gumptions -- gumption and bravery and commitment that you'd expect. And I think that they'll go on making a very successful hag of things.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you very much, Governor Patten, for being with us.
GOVERNOR PATTEN: Thank you very much.