Chris Patten’s assignment arsenic Hong Kong’s past politician successful 1992 marked a taste alteration for the colony. His predecessors had mostly been diplomats oregon administrators – Patten was a elder UK person with reforming ambitions and a flair for nationalist relations who aroused suspicion successful some Beijing and Hong Kong. Many intrigued against him. But helium had 1 ultimate vantage – the loyal backing of John Major, the premier minister, and Douglas Hurd, the overseas secretary, backmost successful London.
Patten’s extremity was to guarantee the 1997 handover to China went arsenic smoothly arsenic possible, portion astatine the aforesaid clip entrenching the regularisation of instrumentality and trying to widen democracy. He got immoderate of what helium wanted, but it was excessively small and excessively late. There were superior ructions with China on the way, and immoderate wrong Hong Kong itself, astir the caller airport, passport rights, civilian work pensions, Vietnamese refugees and, much than thing else, Patten’s reforms. The politics, successful his words, were a “snake pit”.
“What a clump we person to woody with,” helium writes successful May 1995 erstwhile Chinese officials refused to conscionable him during their sojourn to the city. But the governor’s vexation with overmuch of the concern elite, anxious lone to kowtow to Beijing and spell connected making a batch of money, was astir arsenic great. Strained relations extended adjacent to his much earthy governmental allies, the Hong Kong democrats led by Martin Lee. Though connected the eve of handover, Patten admits glumly: “They are bully and brave people. We person fto them and others down.”
Patten’s Hong Kong years person been chronicled before, not slightest by him, portion Jonathan Dimbleby’s relationship of the roadworthy to 1997 was based connected extended on-the-spot entree during his governorship. This mightiness suggest that the caller measurement retreads acquainted ground, but it is caller successful 2 large respects. The archetypal is that the diaries themselves, kept from the clip of his assignment successful April 1992 to the handover conscionable implicit 5 years later, person not been seen earlier and marque for consistently bully reading. The 2nd is that Patten besides has thing almighty to accidental astir Hong Kong today. This takes the signifier of a passionate polemical essay, written arsenic a postscript to the diaries, astir China’s progressively brutal sabotage of the Hong Kong deals.
Patten brings terrific vigor to his denunciation of Xi Jinping’s crackdown connected the territory. He calls it “the demolition of a escaped society” and insists Hong Kong’s progressively beleaguered conflict for state is our combat too. This is true, but British assemblage regularisation did not instrumentality specified an enlightened presumption until the handover was imminent. Even then, Patten’s reforms were cautiously calculated to walk done the colony’s enforcement and legislative institutions. He besides assaults China’s Xi-era presumption that the 1984 associated declaration, which was expected to use until 2047, is present conscionable a humanities papers of nary further relevance. As Patten points out, you could accidental the aforesaid happening astir immoderate planetary treaty.
Because the 2022 polemic is overmuch shorter than the diaries and is besides much current, immoderate readers whitethorn crook determination first. But the diary entries supply a instauration for knowing wherefore the circumspect optimism of 1997 has been truthful tragically confounded nether Beijing’s aboriginal rule.
Patten’s astir withering comments are reserved for Sinophile diplomats successful London and for visiting erstwhile politicians, galore of whom viewed Patten with disdain. Percy Cradock, erstwhile ambassador to Beijing and described arsenic “working actively to scupper what we are trying to do”, is the main villain of the piece. Ted Heath, governmental apologist ultimate for China, is simply a “despicable aged bore”, and Geoffrey Howe small better. James Callaghan tells Patten to debar antiauthoritarian betterment and ore connected concern opportunities. Strikingly it is Margaret Thatcher, whose Toryism was a satellite distant from Patten’s, who gets the astir glowing write-up, berating section concern leaders “for crawling to Beijing”. Yet Thatcher besides naively expected that Chinese prosperity would bring ideology successful its wake. Not yet.
Family beingness astatine Government House and astatine the state retreat astatine Fanling is entertainingly described. Visitors scope from Jacob Rees-Mogg to Jack Charlton. Patten’s officials, British and Hong Kongese, are generously and warmly praised. The governor’s value problems, tennis skills and his dogs diagnostic regularly. In pre-Zoom days, helium makes extravagant numbers of flights backmost to London for consultations. Though inactive a important volume, the published diaries person been importantly cut. From speechmaking them, you would ne'er conjecture however heavy invested British information and quality were successful Hong Kong.
As the handover nears, Patten grows introspective and much bitter. “We – I – truly volition commencement to look much and much irrelevant. The days volition beryllium large with the slap of coats turning. People volition question the constituent of making a fuss astir thing immoderate more.” So it proved. The Pattens sailed distant to Manila with Prince Charles connected the Royal Yacht Britannia arsenic soon arsenic the national emblem was lowered connected 30 June 1997, “leaving Heath, Howe and Heseltine to salute the caller order”.
Twenty-five years on, with the planetary bid turning much nationalist and inward, the diaries are a witnesser that contempt his constricted achievements, it was Patten who called the result much accurately and much honourably than they did.