Chinese intervention in Hong Kong would be a “catastrophe” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be more “outspoken” in putting pressure on Beijing, former governor Chris Patten said on Tuesday.
Patten told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Hong Kong was “close to the abyss”, because its leader Carrie Lam refused withdraw a controversial extradition bill and hold an inquiry into the reasons for the ongoing demonstrations and the way they have been policed.
“I think there is a degree of frustration and anger at the government refusing to give any sensible ground at all, which probably provokes more violence,” said Patten, the last British governor of the region.
Authorities at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday cancelled all departing flights after pro-democracy protesters blocked the facility for a second day.
The abrupt closure came 10 weeks into a crisis that has seen millions of people take to Hong Kong’s streets in the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.
Patten warned against further ratcheting up of tensions, saying it was a “counterproductive thing for the Chinese government to do to give the impression that unless this stops quickly, they will have to consider other methods.
“We know what the other methods have been in Chinese history,” he added.
“We’ve seen Xinjiang, we’ve seen attacks on Taiwan and we’ve seen a much tougher line being taken in Hong Kong.“
He then urged new British Prime Minister Johsnon to take a firmer line with Beijing, and to put pressure on visiting National Security Advisor John Bolton for US help.
“I very much hope that our own prime minister will be as outspoken as the prime ministers of Canada and Australia have been in defence of Hong Kong’s freedoms,” he told the BBC.
“What he should say, for example, to ambassador Bolton… is that he very much hopes the Americans will agree with us that… it will be a catastrophe if China was to intervene in Hong Kong.”