Hong Kong's last British governor says President Xi's 'dictatorship' is creating 'police state'

Lord Patten, Hong Kong's last British governor, told Asia Editor Debi Edward he believes the Chinese Communist Party are "wicked bullies" as he raised fears for the future of Hongkongers

Hong Kong's last British governor has likened Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration to a "dictatorship" that is attempting to create a "police state" in the former colony.

When the union jack was lowered in Hong Kong a quarter of a century ago, it signalled the end of 150 years of it being a British colony.

On the 25th anniversary of Britain's handover to China, Lord Christopher Patten spoke to ITV News about his concerns over the future of Hong Kong.

"There's no question that Xi Jinping's dictatorship has represented a step backwards for China in a pretty big way and therefore a step backwards for Hong Kong as well," he said.

President Xi arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday to a red carpet, the sounds of marching bands, and scores of people waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags.

It marks his first trip outside of mainland China for more than two years due to strict Covid-19 restrictions.

In that time he has imposed several laws on Hong Kong that have demolished the city's freedoms by cracking down on protests, imposing a strict national security law used to silence dissent, introducing a more “patriotic” curriculum in schools, and revamping election laws to keep opposition politicians out of the city’s Legislature.

ITV News' Asia Editor Debi Edward sat down with Lord Patten, Hong Kong's last British governor, on whether there is a hope that Hong Kong could become autonomous and how much the city has changed since he published 'The Hong Kong Diaries'

The changes have all but eliminated dissenting voices in a place once known for its vibrant political debate and have driven many to leave.

But President Xi says Hong Kong "has been reborn from the ashes, showing vigorous vitality".

On Thursday night, he led the 25th anniversary celebrations of when Britain and China agreed a treaty which was meant to pave the way for Hong Kong to have universal suffrage.

Lord Patten and Prince Charles wave Hong Kong goodbye as they board the Royal Britannia on June 30, 1997. Credit: PA

In 1997, after the UK formally handed Hong Kong over to China, Lord Patten tearfully left with his family on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The former governor now admits he and the negotiating team didn't do enough to protect the rights of the people they left behind.

"There is a case to be made that we should've done more earlier, but I don't think anything we'd done before 1997 would've managed to deflate Xi Jinping's ambitions to screw Hong Kong after 2020," he insisted.

The China he dealt with in the 1990s is vastly different to the country which now dominates the world's economic and political landscape.

A crackdown on protests and other controversial laws have forced many Hongkongers to leave. Credit: AP

On Thursday, global leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, united at the Nato summit in Madrid to define China as a security threat.

"I don't think we should club together to contain China but I do think we should constrain China when it's behaving badly and I think we should collectively call it out," Lord Patten added.

"At the moment there's no question that it's been an accomplice to what Putin is doing in Ukraine and we should all be saying that very openly.

"China is a wicked bully. Not China, but the Chinese Communist Party. They couldn't exist, they couldn't be in power if they weren't wicked bullies," he added.

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President Xi's welcoming committee at the train station on Thursday ahead of celebrations included the new Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee - a former police officer chosen by Beijing.

"He's there because he was responsible for the crackdown in 2019 on the demonstrations against the extradition treaty," said Lord Patten.

"And he's there because he's a cop who believes in - rather than in dialogue with people - tasers and plastic baton rounds and tear gas.

"But he's been imposed because while he knows nothing about the way a sophisticated society and economy works, he does know how to put people in prison and that's what China is doing.

"If you're going to create a police state why not have a policeman in charge?"

He said students from Hong Kong studying at the university where he's a chancellor often ask him whether they should go home at the end of their degree.

"It's a very difficult question to answer," he adds.