HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s last British governor urged Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday not to treat the city’s residents like dissidents.
Chris Patten’s comments came amid flaring tensions over calls for independence on the semiautonomous region’s college campuses.
Patten was Britain’s top official in Hong Kong until Beijing took control of the colony on July 1, 1997.
In a speech during a visit to the city, Patten said he hopes Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who took office earlier this year, will advise Xi to refrain from taking a hard-line approach.
“I hope that she makes it clear to Beijing that talking about democracy in Hong Kong isn’t an act of subversion,” he said.
“I hope that she will be able to persuade President Xi that he shouldn’t treat Hong Kong as though people in Hong Kong were just another group of dissidents out to create trouble. So she’s got an extremely difficult job.”
Hong Kong allows civil liberties unseen on mainland China, including freedom of speech. But the recent controversy over calls for independence has highlighted fears about threats to those liberties, by pitting student leaders against the city’s Beijing-backed government and university officials, who say those sentiments are an abuse of those freedoms.
Some activists began openly advocating the once-unthinkable idea of independence from mainland China after massive pro-democracy protests ended without resolution in 2014. Xi warned on a visit to the city earlier this year that talk of independence crosses one of Beijing’s red lines and China’s sovereignty over the city is not up for negotiation.