Friday, November 11, 2005

Chris Patten's return to Hong Kong

Former Governor Lord Chris Patten made a triumphant return to Hong Kong, I guess one can say that. He had a packed schedule of making speeches and book signings in the University of Hong Kong, Foreign Correspondents Club and many bookstores, where he demonstrated his usual wits and intellects – a real, live lesson for politician wannabes here. He even had time to join the opening ceremony of a new branch of his favorite “egg tart” pastry shop. Everywhere he went, he was mobbed by hundreds of people, or more.

Hong Kong people had fond memories of Patten for his five years’ time in Hong Kong, much as deep down inside, most people still had good things to remember about the British rule, if not a preference. Patten can be remembered by many for things including many reforms during the last days of British rule, including direct election and opening up of the functional constituencies, only to be rolled back by Beijing in 1997. The Brits can be blamed for not doing these earlier, or even said to be hypocritical of only making these changes in the closing years of its colonial rule. But nonetheless, I think most people should agree that it is better late than never. The contrast between Patten and the miserable personality and ruling record of Tung Chee Hwa only highlighted why the friendly and affable Patten, known as “Fat Peng” for locals, is so popular in Hong Kong.

What is Patten doing now? He is now the Chancellor of Oxford University. What does a chancellor do if the Vice Chancellor is really the one doing all the operational work? In typical Patten humor, he told us you need to have a Chancellor so there can be a Vice Chancellor. He is no longer in British or European Union politics anymore, but even without holding a post in these governments, Patten simply cannot be counted out. To some, he remains the best or smartest political mind in Britain that has not held a Prime Minister position.

This predicament must have to do with the fact that Patten is on the liberal, pro-Europe wing of the Conservative Party. While this sort of “contradiction” often makes a political figure particularly appealing or even popular, sometimes it also makes them less electable or harder to gain full support or consensus within their own party. This I think is also a side of Patten that much of Hong Kong’s middle class find in common: while we want to demand more democracy and direct participation, we find it difficult to condone to socialist or pro-labor policies of much of the pro-democracy camps.

While in Hong Kong, Patten made repeated references and supportive statements about Hong Kong’s democratic political development. He believes Hong Kong people are mature and ready for full democracy – Hong Kong is a perfect example of a liberal society but not less than democratic system. He even admitted that the British should be faulted for not giving Hong Kong more democracy or sooner while they were in charge.

To many Hong Kong people of my generation, who had our interests in politics started by the June 4 massacre in 1989, and later developed during the years of Sino-British negotiation about the 1997 handover, Patten will always hold a sentimental place in our hearts and minds. I still keep with me a copy of a “standard letter reply” from the then Governor Patten in the mid 90s of the 20th century, when I wrote him from the U.S. (where I then worked) to demand for more democracy for Hong Kong. In short, Patten is a part of the political “growing up” for those of us now in our 40s – the prime group of next-generation political leaders for Hong Kong, one hopes.

I just wish Lord Patten the best for his future. At a young and active 61 years of age, I must believe that there will be more to him than writing and signing books, making money and enjoying a good life. Will he become a future British Prime Minister, or probably even more interesting for him, a future Secretary General for the United Nations – even though such positions are more usually chosen basis on geopolitics, nationalities and colors rather than ability.

Chris, I wish you the best. I know you will surprise us.


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