Countries such as the United States should not hesitate to confront China over democratic rights in Hong Kong as efforts by Western nations could "make a difference," Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, told the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, on Thursday.
Patten, who was responding to the commission’s question on whether U.S. concerns over Hong Kong’s political scenario could affect its relationship with China, said that standing up for principles does not necessarily result in economic damage. He also encouraged building a relationship with China “based on principle and national interests” because a sole emphasis on economic factors might encourage China to “behave badly.”
“I think it is ridiculous to suggest that any attempt to stand up for our values or for what we believe in means risking economic damage and our relationship with China,” Patten said, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP). “It’s in a way encouraging China to behave badly to continually suggest that it’s only if we ignore them behaving badly, we can continue with a satisfactory economic relationship.”
According to Patten, Hong Kong might have “suffered” from President Xi Jinping's autocratic approach to handling protesters, human rights issues and other key political aspects. However, collective efforts by the West in dealing with China more firmly could bring positive changes to Hong Kong’s political system, he said.
In addressing the committee, Patten praised President Barack Obama for pledging to stand up for human rights in Hong Kong. During a speech in Brisbane last week, Obama said that Hong Kong's protesters were “speaking out for their universal rights,” Reuters reported.
The bipartisan commission, which includes nine senators, nine House members and five senior U.S. administration officials, proposed a bill last week demanding an update to a 1992 act put in place to track the development of democracy in Hong Kong, and also requiring the U.S. president to certify Hong Kong as a sufficiently autonomous territory.
“If China can so easily renege on its promises to Hong Kong, then how can we expect China to hold up its end of the bargain on issues like World Trade Organization compliance or future trade agreements?” Reuters quoted Senator Sherrod Brown, the commission’s co-chairman, as saying.
Meanwhile, Beijing continues to view the West's concerns over Hong Kong as meddlesome and an unwelcome interference in an internal matter.
“The political system and democratic development are Hong Kong’s internal affairs and China’s domestic policies, and no foreign government, organization or people should interfere,” Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said, according to SCMP.