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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Profile: Chris Patten
Patten as Hong Kong governor
Mr Patten oversaw Hong Kong's hand-over
By foreign affairs analyst Louisa Brooke

Chris Patten - reviled by the Chinese authorities during his years as governor of Hong Kong - is visiting Beijing as European Union external affairs commissioner.

Mr Patten once described his time as the former colony's last governor as the experience that shaped him for the rest of his life.

He was picked for the job in 1992 by the then UK Prime Minister, John Major, to oversee the return of the colony to China in 1997.

But he soon ruffled Chinese feathers when he announced proposals for the democratic reform of Hong Kong's institutions a few months into his tenure.

War of words

Beijing was outraged that it had not been consulted and threatened to tear up business contracts and overturn the reforms when it took control of the colony.

The crisis in relations caused the Hong Kong stock market to crash in December 1992.

Reforms were eventually introduced 18 months later after numerous rounds of negotiations.

His tough stand won him many admirers outside Beijing.

But relations between Mr Patten and the Chinese authorities remained strained. Chinese officials and media came up with a variety of insults including, most infamously, "fatty pang".

Nevertheless, the hand-over of Hong Kong to China in June 1997 was largely seen as a great success, and few will forget the sight of Mr Patten crying as the Union flag was taken down.


Chris Patten entered politics early. He joined the UK's Conservative Party research office after graduating from Oxford University.

He was elected MP for Bath in 1979, and spent most of the 1980s serving in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's governments.

Patten with Blair
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair found a role for Chris Patten
Mr Patten was appointed parliamentary under-secretary for Northern Ireland in 1983, before moving to the Department of Education. He then became the overseas development minister before gaining a cabinet seat in 1989 as environment secretary. He was appointed chairman of the Conservative Party in 1990.

Mr Patten is credited with securing the Conservatives' election victory in the 1992 general election but lost his own Bath seat.

As a reward for his role on the election, Mr Major offered him the Hong Kong governorship.

On his return to the UK, he was appointed by the new Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair to head the independent commission on policing in Northern Ireland.

The report recommended a radical overhaul of the service, and came under considerable fire from Ulster Unionists who objected to proposals for a name change, a new badge, a new oath of allegiance and a new flag.

EU role

Since September 1999 Mr Patten has served as a member of the European Commission, responsible for foreign affairs and external relations. He aroused controversy last year when it was suggested in the press that he found the job boring.

He has long been critical of what he considers the endemic waste and fraud of the European Union's foreign aid programmes and the slowness of Brussels bureaucracy.

As commissioner for external relations he works closely with Javier Solana, head of EU foreign policy, and has been closely involved in recent attempts to define and refine what he calls "a common foreign and security policy", as well as working alongside Nato.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong government shake-up
30 Jun 98 | Hong Kong Handover Anniversary
Chris Patten: Reflections on Hong Kong
03 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Patten rules out comeback
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