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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Last British governor of Hong Kong
By Penny Spiller
BBC News website

Ten years ago this weekend, Chris Patten's job as governor of Hong Kong came to an end - and with it 150 years of British rule.

Chris Patten holds the folded British flag upon leaving Government House in Hong Kong on 30 June 1997
The British flag came down over Hong Kong on 30 June 1997

Amid a tropical downpour, Mr Patten, along with the Prince of Wales, new Prime Minister Tony Blair and other dignitaries, saw the British flag lowered in the territory for the last time on 30 June 1997.

It was an emotional moment, says the former governor who was made a Lord in 2004. Both he and his family had come to love Hong Kong during their five years there. He still calls it the best job he ever had.

Lord Patten had insisted upon a ceremony of some pomp, rather than a more functional handover in the city hall that had initially been favoured by the Chinese.

This week, BBC News is taking an in-depth look at the territory, 10 years after it was handed over from British to Chinese rule. Stories include: democracy, pollution and what happened to the British.

"I felt there should be a proper farewell in order to demonstrate to the world that Hong Kong, a free city, was seeing transfer of its sovereignty to an authoritarian government," he said.

He was not alone in wondering what the future would hold for Hong Kong post 1997, and his intention, he said, was to remind the international community to keep an eye on what happened in the territory in the ensuing years.

In his farewell speech, he not only alluded to the previous century and events that led to British rule of Hong Kong - the Opium Wars that "none of us would wish or seek to condone" - but also to China's poor human rights record.

"We might note that most of those who live in Hong Kong now do so because of events in our own century which would today have few defenders," he said.

Lord Patten says today that his fears then, that Hong Kong would simply be subsumed by China, have proved largely unfounded.

View from Hong Kong's Victoria Peak
Hong Kong is a Chinese city with the best of the West, Lord Patten says

"My worst fear about Hong Kong was that it would become China's richest city. But I think it's managed to remain a Chinese city that encompasses the best attributes of the West. It's retained its character," he said.

"Hong Kong remains a free and open society - with a rule of law, a judicial system and freedom of speech and of religion."

He described one or two decisions made by the Chinese authorities - including Beijing's ultimately aborted attempt to write an anti-subversion clause into Hong Kong's mini constitution that drew huge protests - as "unfortunate and ill-judged".

"But by and large, the Hong Kong people have been left to get on with things," he added. "I'm only sorry that there's been no further democratic development since."

New-style governor

Lord Patten jokes that the last governor of Hong Kong was "slightly improbably" chosen by the citizens of Bath - who voted him out as their MP in the 1992 general election.

Until that point he had been a rising star in the British Conservative government, holding the position of party chairman until he lost his seat.

The newly-re-elected prime minister, John Major, decided to break with tradition by offering the last governorship of Hong Kong to a politician rather than a diplomat.

Chris Patten (file photo)
The reforms... ensured the Chinese were on their best behaviour after 1997, and helped to develop a strong sense of citizenship in Hong Kong
Lord Patten

Lord Patten quickly proved to be a very different type of governor - carrying out tours of the territory, holding regular question and answer sessions, and opening up Government House for concerts and charity events.

His main aim when he arrived in 1992 was to further democracy in the territory - as, he says, was promised when the handover agreement known as the Joint Declaration was signed with China in 1984.

"By the time I came, there were still a lot of issues of democratic development that needed to be resolved," he said.

He set about making government more open and accountable, and changed the electoral process to allow more people to vote in the 1995 elections for the legislative council, the last such elections before handover.

Lord Patten said he "tried to work within the grounds of the 1984 agreement", but his reforms angered China, and some in Britain, who felt it was rather late in the day to start introducing democracy when little attempt had been made in the past.

Tensions with China remained until handover day, and some of his reforms were in effect reversed after 1997.

But Lord Patten has no regrets. "I believe the reforms we introduced ensured that the Chinese were on their best behaviour after 1997, and also helped to develop a strong sense of citizenship in Hong Kong. So I think they were a help.

"If I have any regrets, it's that we spent so long negotiating with one or two Chinese officials who were never going to give any ground. We wasted a year or so on that."

His relations with the Chinese government have improved since then, and Lord Patten speaks positively about the role China has to play in the world.

"I always believed China's success was useful for the rest of us, and I do not think it poses the threat some think it does," he said.

As for Hong Kong, the man who was affectionately known as "Fatty Pang" (Pang being the Chinese transliteration of Patten) says he has returned several times in the past 10 years and gets a reception "rather like an ageing rock star".

He says he would like to see Beijing introduce universal suffrage in Hong Kong, allowing people the right to choose their own government.

"Hong Kong has many of the institutions and attributes of a liberal society, all except for the ability to vote".

The last British Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten presents Hong Kong Night, a look back at the handover, 1800 BST - Midnight, Sun 1 July, BBC Parliament.

Former governor Chris Patten reflects on the handover

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