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Hong Kong Handover Anniversary Tuesday, 30 June, 1998, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Chris Patten: Reflections on Hong Kong
Chris Patten with Union Jack flag at Hong Kong handover ceremony
Presiding over the end of an era in Hong Kong
Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, ended his five-year term almost exactly one year ago. During his time as Governor, he wrote a series of "Letters to Hong Kong" which were broadcast on the local government-funded radio station, RTHK. Now he's written a final letter broadcast in Hong Kong and on the BBC.

I don't believe it, I really don't believe it, is it actually a year since I left Hong Kong on that wet wet night with Lavendar and my daughters?

Chris Patten
The last governor
In a curious way it seems both like yesterday and like an age ago. Since then so much seems to have happened to you, and to me. My family have settled into a new home in London. I've written a book, mostly at our other home in the French countryside. I've started to make some television programmes about Asia.

And I've just begun work as chairman of the commission tasked with organising Northern Ireland's police, for what we all hope will be a more peaceful future after the Good Friday Agreement.

'I've hoarded every scrap of news'

But busy as I've been, I've listened and watched out for every bit of news about Hong Kong. Collected, sifted, hoarded every scrap.

Obviously the big story for you is the Asian financial crisis, which has stormed through the region.

When I'm asked the reasons for the crash I mention three:

First, everyone knows that the immediate cause of the crash was soaring Asian debt, as the dollar strengthened and the Yen weakened.

But there seem to me to be two more fundamental reasons; first, too many Asian governments neglected the basics, they borrowed too much, and often borrowed unwisely. There was slack regulation of banks and financial services. There was too much corruption and nepotism that distorted economies. We're all in favour of family values, but that doesn't mean - or shouldn't mean - lining the pockets of a rulers family.

Second, in several countries economic development had out-stripped the political institutions.

`Hong Kong can take heart'

Chinese troops in Hong Kong
Chinese troops in Hong Kong
What Hong Kong can take heart from is that it doesn't suffer from any of these three big problems. The city is still very well-off. There are huge reserves.

More important Hong Kong has still got all the basics of economic management right. Low taxes, a hands-off approach to business and a marvellous entrepreneurial culture. A well educated and highly skilled workforce.

And third, Hong Kong is a free society under the Rule of Law. It was last year, and it still is this year.

`The flame of freedom burns bright'

I've always believed that no one would be able to snuff-out Hong Kong's democratic spirit. And I've believed too that those who believe in, who stand up for the values of a free society, are far more likely to shape Hong Kong's future than those who don't. And so it has overwhelmingly proved.

A demonstrator taking part in candle-lit vigil in Hong Kong this year to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen square killings
A demonstrator at a candle-lit vigil in Hong Kong this year to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings
Then at the beginning of the month came the impressive vigil for the 1989 Martyrs for Freedom, with thousands gathering in the pouring rain. It does incidentally seem to have rained rather a lot in the last year, I'm sorry that you've had such terrible weather conditions.

But back to June 4th, I was never myself able - for obvious reasons - to attend the vigil when I was Governor, but I used to watch the dignified crowds with admiration, and I did so again this year, as did so many others.

So the flame of freedom burns bright in Hong Kong, and it always will. Others, less fortunate watch, admire and are encouraged to hope for a free future for themselves.

For all those reasons Hong Kong is better placed than almost any other society in Asia to withstand the raging storms.

Of course you can't completely avoid being hit, and they'll certainly be a tougher year or two ahead.

But I'm sure that keeping your nerve, keeping your eye on the long term, keeping faith with yourselves, you'll come through with flying colours. Able once again to astonish the world with Hong Kong's successes, and able as well to play a crucial role in helping your fellow citizens in China to manage the next stage of their reform and modernisation programme.

`Hong Kong has shaped me for the rest of my life'

When I left Hong Kong I described it as a Chinese city with some British characteristics.

That's why I miss it so much, the unique mix of the best of East and the best of West. And I've missed, as you might expect, the Peking duck and the steamed fish, and the custard tarts. The best food anywhere in the world.

But it's been that bubbling verve and excitement that I've missed most. I'm looking forward to experiencing it once again when I come back just for two or three days, after my book is published in the autumn. It's a book about my ideas - ideas formed really by Hong Kong.

If it's bad that's my fault, but if it's good that's really because it bears the indelible imprint of five years spent in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong made the book, and as I know, even after spending twelve months away, Hong Kong made whatever I am today too. Shaped me in a sense for the rest of my life.

Courtesy of RTHK

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