Chris Patten says Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters should not give up. Photo: Asia Times, FCC

Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten is opposed to the idea of “mutual destruction” proposed by protesters who believe the United States should drop Hong Kong’s special trade status in order to hurt Beijing’s interests. The move would only make the situation worse, he said. 

“The idea that you can help your political cause by making things worse, I just think that’s crazy,” Patten said on Wednesday during a webinar with the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club. 

“I want to see Hong Kong prosperous and free, continuing to have the same relationship with markets all around the world,” he said. “But you can’t deny the fact that if Beijing Communists continue to treat Hong Kong as though it’s another Chinese city, the rest of the world would inevitably start to do the same and that would be a disaster.”

The “mutual destruction” idea, or laam caau (burn with us) in Cantonese, was first promoted last summer by a group of Hong Kong netizens. They said Beijing would not dare dispense with the “one country, two systems” model as the mainland’s economy relies on Hong Kong. They said China’s capital inflow and financial stability will be hurt if the US ends or suspends Hong Kong’s special trade status. 

They also said laam caau has the same meaning as “If we burn, you burn with us,” a line used in the Hollywood movie The Hunger Games. A netizen who called himself “laam caau brother” has recently said in a video that the strategy should mean “phoenixism,” instead of “burnism,” as Hong Kong will be reborn one day. 

In recent statements, the central government’s Liaison Office has slammed the Hong Kong pan-democrats’ laam caau strategy. Such a strategy will only destroy Hong Kong, the Liaison Office said. 

In the webinar, Patten was asked if protesters should just give up and accept that their pro-democracy movement is futile.

“No, certainly not. They shouldn’t lose heart, they shouldn’t lose their sense of dignity and decency and moderation…Where will the Chinese Communist Party be in 2047? I don’t know, unless [President] Xi Jinping is going to live forever. I doubt whether it’d be exactly the same then as it is today,” he said. 

“I don’t think you can kill or lock up or tear gas into submission the idea of freedom,” he added. Hong Kong people should stand up for what they believe in by voting in legislative elections in September, he said. 

However, he said he hopes Hong Kong protesters will not be provoked into committing violence in response to “police violence.” Getting into fights won’t help the fight for freedom and democracy, he said, adding that trashing MTR stations and traffic lights were not what Hong Kong people want to see.

Commenting on the report released by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), he said the resignation of five overseas experts has indicated that the police watchdog’s investigation would be lacking transparency. 

He said it was unbelievable that 8,000 people were arrested but not even a single police officer had to be investigated for using excessive force during the operation. He said an independent inquiry into police behavior could help ease social unrest in Hong Kong.

Read: Police report fails to resolve protest disputes

Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong before the city was handed over to China from Britain in 1997, said the United Kingdom should speak up for the territory. He also said that post-Brexit UK will not be able to boost its exports to China by kowtowing to the world’s second-largest economy. He said Germany could expect an increase in its China exports because it was making products that Chinese people like. 

Patten also said he was extremely worried that Beijing was tightening its controls over Hong Kong. He said Chief Executive Carrie Lam was not performing her job with the “greatest integrity” because she was not communicating the reality of Hong Kong life to Chinese leaders.

Some people in Hong Kong, particularly the Hong Kong government, “seem to be the mechanism through which the Communist leadership in Beijing runs Hong Kong and makes its decisions,” said Patten. “Carrie Lam will have to live with her conscience.” 

Read: HK pandemic rules force rethink of annual vigil

On April 18,  the Liaison Office and the Hong Kong and Macau Office (HKMAO) said in statements that they were not bound by the restrictions of the Basic Law’s Article 22, which says the central government’s offices cannot interfere in the Hong Kong government’s affairs.

Patten said he thinks the liaison office and HKMAO have “certainly” violated Article 22 of the Basic Law and intervened in local affairs because they are direct representatives of Beijing.

He said their recent comments and denials that they’re subject to the article reminded him of the Chinese saying, “The deer isn’t a horse.”

Meanwhile, Patten praised a 13-year-old Hong Kong teenager for reporting protests in a shopping mall on May 10. 

The teenager, who worked as a volunteer journalist for the Student Depth Media, was taken away by police on that day for “safety” reasons. He was released from the police station later but his mother was warned that she would be charged with child neglect if she allowed her son to attend a protest again. 

Before the boy was taken away, a group of police officers surrounded him and called him a “child laborer,” an “illegal rioter” and a member of the illegal assembly, according to a video.

Read: Liaison Office slams ‘burn with us’ strategy

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