Patten : HK will prosper under Chinese rule if …

FORTUNE GLOBAL FORUM

HONGKONG Governor Chris Patten yesterday expressed optimism that Hongkong would continue to prosper under Chinese rule after 1997.

His optimism was premised on the continuation of the rule of law which, in turn, he said, would depend on what he called the “four depends”:

* Whether the Sino-British Joint Declaration on preserving Hongkong’s way of life would continue into a post-1997 era.

* Whether the rule of law is recognised as the key to future success.

* Whether professions and businesses hold to the rule of law as dearly as they do the free market.

* Whether institutions and values such as democracy and freedoms will continue to thrive.

He said that “all will be well” if the Joint Declaration was followed as faithfully beyond 1997, as it was now.

The Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, described the way Hongkongers live, encompassing principles like a free market economy, the rule of law and freedom to exchange ideas, he said.

“We are a community, not a Lego set. We can’t be dismantled and then assembled again by an act of political will, an act which may also take away some of the bits and put them back in the box.”

Mr Patten, who has about 800 days to go as Governor before the handover of Hongkong to China, was speaking about the rule of law and democratic freedoms at a breakfast session of the Fortune Global Forum yesterday.

The rule of law, he said, had underpinned the success of the Hongkong market economy and the Hongkong way of doing business.

But for laws to work, they must acquire moral authority.

“In more and more communities, it is the business of law making by and through the representatives of those who must obey the law, which provides much of that moral authority,” he said.

“If the process itself is suspect, who will obey the law? If you distort the making of the laws, you undermine the rule of law.”

He added that while the law also constrained liberty, as it should to prevent a slide into anarchic licence, “in Hongkong, we believe that liberty should be drawn as broadly as possible.”

Taking issue with the view that “freedom stunts growth”, he said that liberty and the institutions which sustained it had not affected Hongkong’s economic growth.

Political freedoms could conflict with economic progress, he acknowledged, but added that just as not every free society was successful economically, autocracy and lack of freedom did not “mechanistically promote economic freedom either”.

“Anyway, in short, we in Hongkong do not believe that liberty under the law is a sort of optional add-on which a society can earn at a given level of GDP and social stability: a value-loaded equivalent of credit cards.”

He said that the rule of law would continue to survive in Hongkong if it was recognised as the key to future as well as past success.

Professions and businesses should also uphold the rule of law, and not turn a blind eye to attempts to chip away at it.

He was also confident that the trend towards the civic society and the values such as democracy and freedom built up in Hongkong would continue.

His final judgement: “Hongkong under Chinese sovereignty after 1997 will continue to write new pages in the record books, and to provide a good and civilised home for six million extraordinarily talented people.”

Asked by reporters later whether his strong pitch for greater freedom was a criticism of Singapore, as Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew had, in a visit to the colony in 1992, asked Hongkongers to distance themselves from Mr Patten’s reforms, he said it was not.

“There is a lot of talk about an alleged difference between Asian and Western values. I am not sure whether I necessarily agree with that.

“But it is one of my values and a tradition which I always follow, not to criticise other countries when you go and speak there. So my speech today was about Hongkong.”

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