As the former colony prepares for the visit of the Chinese president to mark 20 years since the handover, the last British governor warns over freedoms

Chinese president Xi Jinping must strive to calm the hearts and minds of Hong Kongs seven million citizens during the upcoming commemorations of the 20th anniversary of handover, the territorys last British governor has said.

On 1 July it will be two decades since the former colony reverted to Chinese control under the one country, two systems formula, which guaranteed it far greater freedoms than the authoritarian mainland.

The anniversary, which pro-democracy campaigners are vowing to mark with street protests, is also expected to see Xi make his first trip to the territory since becoming Chinas top leader in 2012.

Amid continuing disquiet over Beijings dilution of Hong Kongs social and political freedoms, Lord Patten urged Xi to use the visit to reiterate his administrations commitment to the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, the accord that paved the way for handover, in 1997.

Under the agreement China pledged to leave Hong Kongs social and economic systems and lifestyle unchanged for 50 years.

I hope he takes the opportunity to reassure people in Hong Kong that China still stands four-square behind what it promised back in 1984 and 1985 and later and that he, like Deng Xiaoping, believes that people in Hong Kong are perfectly capable of running their own affairs, Patten told a US congressional hearing about the political situation 20 years after handover.

There was a very important remark that Deng Xiaoping made back in 1984 to set the minds and hearts of people in Hong Kong at rest. I have to say that, though I think there is much good that is still happening in Hong Kong, peoples hearts and minds arent exactly at rest at the moment.

Twenty years after he sailed out of Hong Kong on the Royal Yacht Britannia, Patten, who is now chancellor of the University of Oxford, admitted doomsday predictions about post-handover Hong Kong had not come to pass.

[Some] thought for example that even I would be leaving in a helicopter from the ballroom roof in government house and that sooner or later there would be violence in Hong Kong.

That hasnt happened But there has been I think a steady and growing erosion of Hong Kongs autonomy and I think thats much to be regretted. Hong Kong and China will be the losers from that.

The run-up to Julys handover commemorations has been marred by a series of arrests targeting democracy activists. Campaigners claim the detentions are an attempt to silence dissent and deter would-be protesters ahead of president Xis anticipated visit.

Speaking at the same congressional hearing on Wednesday, Joshua Wong, the 20-year-old pro-democracy activist, claimed a campaign of massive political persecution was now under way in Hong Kong.

Wong pointed to attempts to remove Nathan Law, the territorys youngest ever lawmaker, from power after he used his swearing-in last October to challenge Chinas Communist party rulers.

You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body. But you will never imprison my mind, 23-year-old Law told the session, quoting Gandhi.

Two other elected lawmakers, who were known for their pro-independence views, have already been disqualified from office for defying Beijing during the same ceremony.

Patten blamed the governments decision to cut off dialogue with moderate democracy campaigners for fuelling support for pro-independence activists.

He also said the recent election of Hong Kongs chief-executive in which only 0.03% of Hong Kongs registered voters had a say had brought a peculiarly Chinese meaning to the word election. Despite enjoying widespread popular support, the losing candidate, former financial secretary John Tsang, got the thumbs down from the ayatollahs because hed counselled on the case for dialogue with the democracy activists, Patten noted.

The Conservative peer urged western governments to confront Beijing over the situation in Hong Kong in the lead-up to Julys anniversary.

I just hope that we will speak out, the British government will speak out, rather more loudly over the coming months and years Ive always felt that we let down the generation before Joshua Wong, his parents generation, and I hope we dont let down Joshua Wongs generation as well.

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Xi Jinping must calm ‘hearts and minds’ of Hong Kong, says Patten
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