The last Governor of Hong Kong, Baron Patten of Barnes, has said he thinks the Vatican has “got it badly wrong about China” in its efforts at rapprochement with the administration of Xi Jingping.
Speaking to The Tablet, the former Conservative Party Chairman said: “Of course I am in favour of them trying to do what they can to make it easier for Catholics and Christians to worship in China.”
But he added: “I just think this was an extraordinary time to be doing this with an administration in China which has gone back on human rights – which is making things tougher on human rights. That is what Xi Jingping has been doing.”
Lord Patten was speaking to The Tablet in Dublin after he delivered an address on ‘The Future of Liberal Democracy’. The lecture was organised by the Jesuit journal Studies and was held in honour of Peter Sutherland, the former Attorney General of Ireland and a patron of Studies.
“It is very sad, but under Xi Jingping things have gone backwards in China,” he said and added that for the Vatican to try and drive for a normalisation of its relationship with China at this time was “bizarre”.
He noted that the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, who met Archbishop Paul Gallagher on 14 February to discuss developments since a landmark Sino-Vatican agreement of 2018 on the appointment of bishops in China, shared the same name as a well-known Christian pastor who was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in December for subversion of state power.
Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church had criticised Xi Jingping’s authoritarian policies.
“The man who they have made head of the Hong Kong-Macau office in charge of dealing with Hong Kong cut his teeth tearing down Christian symbols in the province he was previously running,” Baron Patten highlighted.
Xia Baolong is a close ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and was his deputy in Zhejiang province. Over 1,200 crosses were removed and scores of churches were torn down between 2013 and 2017 when Xia was Communist Party secretary of the province, which is one of China’s more heavily Christian regions.
“How can you have a rapprochement on religious issues with China when there are a million or more Uighur Muslims locked up in Xinjiang,” Lord Patten said.
He added: “I find myself sympathising hugely with Cardinal Zen on this and with others. I admire those in Rome who have been trying for decades to improve relations between the Vatican and China. I know these issues aren’t easy. But I just think this was an extraordinary time to be doing this with an administration in China which has gone back on human rights.”
Lord Patten, who chaired the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, also spoke to The Tablet about Saudi Arabia and said Britain and Europe could not “apply double standards”.
“While we are taking a tough line on Iran and human rights, or Syria and human rights, we can’t ignore what has been happening in Saudi Arabia, whether it is the murder of people who are dissident or whether it is the continuing bad treatment of women.”
He said human rights must be regarded as universal and be applied in the same way everywhere.
In his address, he said the main external threat to liberal democracy comes from the Chinese Communist Party, though Russia “competes for this dubious honour”.
He emphasised that it is important that China should play a leading and constructive role in the global community but added: “We should not have an argument with China, but with the intentions and behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party.”
The most serious and sustained attacks on the values of liberal democracy, he noted, come from the Chinese Communist Party, and are given heft by Chinese economic success and calculated debt diplomacy.
Persuading Western countries that access to China’s market depends on toeing China’s political lines was “wolf diplomacy”, he said.
The influential Catholic told a packed St Ann’s Church on Dublin’s Dawson Street that one reason for the Chinese Community party’s hard line in Hong Kong is that the city represents many of the aspects of liberal democracy which the Party hates.
“That is one reason why the future of the city matters so much; a city that can remember, that knows what happened in the past,” he stated.