Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, Chris Patten, has criticized Beijing’s passing of the national security law and hit out at Chief Executive Carrie Lam for mishandling the city’s political crisis.
In an interview with CNBC published Wednesday, Patten called Lam a “lamentable and quisling figure in Hong Kong history.”
He added that the national security law undermines the city’s rule of law and judicial independence, posing a threat to the cherished freedoms that have allowed Hong Kong to thrive.
“What the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has set out to do is to destroy the Hong Kong which has been so successful for decades—one of the freest cities in the world and a great Asian financial hub,” he said.
Patten was governor of Hong Kong until the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, marking the end of 156 years of colonial rule.
His words echo the fears of many activists and legal experts who say the national security law—which was drafted, discussed and passed in Beijing, bypassing the city’s legislature—spells the end of the One Country, Two Systems framework that supposedly guarantees Hong Kong rights not enjoyed on the mainland.
Since the passing of the law, protesters have deleted their social media accounts, restaurants have hidden their support for the movement and pro-democracy leaders have stepped back from their activism.
On Wednesday, Beijing inaugurated its new national security office, staffed by more than 200 officials tasked with enforcing the sweeping law. On the same day, education secretary Kevin Yeung said schools should not allow their students to sing or play “Glory to Hong Kong,” the unofficial anthem of the protest movement.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly reassured the city that the law targets only a small minority of individuals.
Speaking about the protests that began last summer, Patten said the government should have given in to one of the movement’s core demands and set up an independent inquiry to investigate the police violence. He had earlier been critical of the proposed extradition bill that sparked the protests, calling it a “terrible blow” to the rule of law.
In an interview with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in May, Patten voiced his support for the protest movement. “[The protestors] shouldn’t lose heart. They shouldn’t lose their sense of dignity and decency and moderation,” he said.