LONDON • China has betrayed the people of Hong Kong, so the West should stop kowtowing to Beijing for an illusory great pot of gold, said Mr Chris Patten, the last governor of the former British colony.
Beijing is set to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong after facing a sustained campaign of pro-democracy protests last year in the city, which enjoys many freedoms not allowed on mainland China.
"The Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China," Mr Patten was quoted as saying by The Times newspaper. Britain, he said, has a "moral, economic and legal" duty to stand up for Hong Kong.
Mr Patten, now 76, watched as the British flag was lowered over Hong Kong when the colony was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule - imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War.
Hong Kong's autonomy was guaranteed for 50 years under the "one country, two systems" agreement enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
But China's plans to impose the security laws on Hong Kong risk destroying the declaration, Mr Patten said.
The United States has branded the laws a "death knell" for the city's autonomy. Britain, Canada and Australia issued a joint statement on Friday expressing their concern for the legislation.
"What we are seeing is a new Chinese dictatorship," Mr Patten said.
"The British government should make it clear that what we are seeing is a complete destruction of the Joint Declaration."
Mr Patten said the West should stop chasing the illusory promise of Chinese gold and that Britain should think carefully about Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei's involvement in its 5G network.
"We should stop being fooled that somehow, at the end of all the kowtowing, there's this great pot of gold waiting for us. It's always been an illusion," he said.
"We keep on kidding ourselves that unless we do everything that China wants, we will somehow miss out on great trading opportunities. It's drivel."
China's Foreign Ministry branch in Hong Kong hit back yesterday at "meddling" countries and said the proposed national security laws, which could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in Hong Kong, would not harm the interests of foreign investors in the territory.
"No matter how venomously you smear, provoke, coerce or blackmail us, the Chinese people will remain rock-firm in safeguarding national sovereignty and security," a spokesman of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong said in a statement.