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Lawyers leading Hong Kong fight for rule of law – Patten
Chris Patten Pic: RollingNews.ie

17 Nov 2020 / rule of law Print

Lawyers leading Hong Kong fight for rule of law – Patten

Former Hong Kong Governor Lord Chris Patten has said that everyone, including US Republicans, will be terrible losers if attacks on liberal democracy continue.

Speaking online at the 2020 International Bar Association (IBA) annual conference, Patten said that President Trump is not a conservative, in that he does not respect institutions.

Vast inequalities

Patten continued that vast inequalities in the US have created divides, and it has not been the legacy of Republican presidents to deal with inequity through the mechanism of higher taxes and public expenditure.

“I’m afraid that is going to be very difficult for a Biden administration to do, if everything is blocked in the Senate.

“I’m not talking about revolution, I’m talking about trying to rebalance things a bit,” he said, calling for more labour-market retraining expenditure in the States.

“That’s helping the economy in the long run, helping people to get into the sort of jobs that will enable them to outperform people in Mexico and China and Vietnam and elsewhere,” he said.

Patten added that he despaired of those who feel ‘trickle-down’ growth is the only way to go.

Too little tax

“I pay too little tax and I’m not a billionaire.

“I may grumble about that but it’s what should happen. People like me, older and better-off, should take a bigger share of the burden of society … than those so hard-clobbered by this pandemic, on the back on growing social inequity."

On China, Chris Patten said that that country exhibited a clear indifference to Western values, which could not be simply attributed to Confucianism.

“The truth is that what’s happening in China, and in the Communist Party, is old-fashioned Leninist-Marxism,” he said, describing Hong Kong's current situation as extremely sad.

Quisling assembly

“What is the point in being in a Quisling assembly?” he asked.

China has constantly harried elected representatives and threatened them with imprisonment for being ‘unpatriotic’, he pointed out.

To say that those democrats were 'unpatriotic' is to say the same of all the people who voted for them, he said.

Democracy means a passion for pluralism, accountability and the rule of law, he continued.

Some of the most distinguished campaigners in Hong Kong, for pluralism and the rule of law, had been members of the legal profession, such as barrister Martin Lee, and the Catholic Church, Patten said. 

The Vatican however, is "kidding itself" that it can find some accommodation with China, he continued. 

“They have been down that sort of road with authoritarian, totalitarian systems before, and it didn’t work very well,” he said.

Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong has taken up the cause of democracy, he pointed out. 

Economic and political freedom are two sides of the same coin and Hong Kong Chinese people believe in an open society.

That identity embraces civic humanism, political constraints and the importance of building consensus, and not allowing majorities to tyrannise minorities, he said.

“We can prevail in the battle of ideas with China,” Patten said.

“It may be that we can’t change China but we can certainly stop China changing us. That’s the important thing, which we must avoid being cowards about."

Destruction of a free society 

“We mustn’t forget about Hong Kong. It’s hugely important, and the most notable example of the destruction of a free society since the Second World War," he commented.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable that that’s goodbye to the decencies of life in Hong Kong.”

China must be prevented from making predatory raids on key sectors, such as pharma and high tech, and made to understand that there is a price for running an authoritarian surveillance state, he said.

The Anglophone countries should offer more higher-education scholarships to young Hong Kongers, Patten said.

On whether British judges should continue to serve on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, Patten said local lawyers should be listened to, because they have been "fantastically brave".

'Wicked behaviour'

Lawyers of integrity will not give a cloak of respectability to “thoroughly obnoxious, wicked behaviour” by the Chinese authorities, Patten said.

The former BBC chair added that it was one of life’s tragedies that tools that bring us freedom, such as the internet, can also do the opposite.

The pursuit of national interest should also include trying to behave decently in relation to human rights in the context of foreign policy, Chris Patten said.

American values

On the United States of America, Patten observed that its values had contributed enormously to the arts world, as well as to politics.

"I hope we don’t lose that now. I greatly admire its art, music and architecture – American pizzazz and chutzpah 

“In the old world, we don’t have as much chutzpah and pizzazz,” Chris Patten said.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland