HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, said Tuesday that calls for the city's independence from China dilute support for democracy, and residents should engage in dialogue and not hate speech.
Patten, who presided over the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, spoke at a luncheon at The Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong.
A debate on freedom of speech has raged at universities in Hong Kong over the appearance of independence slogans on campus. Patten expressed his disapproval of calls for Hong Kong independence, saying it would never happen, is provocative and dilutes support for democracy.
"Hong Kong has to have a grown-up discussion about civil disobedience and how much is allowable. But I certainly don't think that it makes sense for people to shout at one another from the opposite sides of the barricades," he said.
Hong Kong maintains civil liberties unseen on mainland China, including freedom of speech, but many residents fear Beijing is tightening its grip.
Some young activists started promoting the once-unthinkable notion of independence from mainland China after massive pro-democracy protests ended without resolution in 2014. There's almost no chance of success but their ideas have alarmed China's Communist leaders in Beijing.
Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government has clamped down on such sentiment.