Lord Patten was the last Governor of Hong Kong and was Chairman of the BBC Trust. He was elected Chancellor of Oxford University in 2003. This interview was made in late 2012.
“The future is in China’s hands, but the country needs to work on corruption and economic models.”
Lord Patten, you were the last Governor of Hong Kong – from 1992 to 1997 – before the handover to China. What kind of future do you see for China? And, most of all, do you think there will be a war between China and Japan?
I don’t think there will be a conflict, but the tensions are due to the failure of these two countries to come together. In the foreseeable future, China, which needs to change its economic models and fight corruption, will become the greatest economic power in the world. There’s a conservative faction of Chinese and then there are the moderates. The conservatives say that the party that controls the economy will get rid of the state sooner or later while the moderates say that if state control isn’t maintained, the country will be faced with growing unemployment.
Have things changed in Hong Kong very much recently?
No. It is a bit more Chinese, but it combines the best in Asia with the best qualities of the Atlantic community. It’s a free society with a strong national sense.
What are your thoughts on English politics?
Considering my roles as the Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the Chairman of the BBC Trust, I should stay out of politics. However, I believe that every elected government in Europe should take on the problems of democratic society, such as reducing debt via austerity programmes. Except for the Dutch, the Germans, and the Finns, we are all in the same boat. Our political class needs to see the crisis in Europe resolved in a satisfactory manner. Whatever resolution is reached will bring fiscal and political changes that will have profound implications. In England, there’s the same old discussion on the need to strengthen relationships in Europe while at the same time not doing so at the expense of the relationship with the United States…
What about the Middle East?
Twelve years ago, a working group of Arabic politicians, journalists, intellectuals and politicians pointed out that the Arab countries themselves have less economic success in the world despite their oilfields. This working group concluded that there were various reasons for this. You have, for example, authoritarianism, repression and a lack of rights, and then you also have problems in the education system and in the way women are treated. Women are cut out of the education system and therefore out of subsequent work opportunities. With the Arab Spring, they were able to free themselves from authoritarian governments thanks to those who seemed not to have a chance, thanks to the middle classes that wanted to be more involved in Islam. As long as there was an authoritarian state, Islam was the only way to oppose the regime.
And in terms of Syria?
The situation there is of a corrupt, authoritarian regime with one minority fighting another minority. It is incredibly difficult to bring down the rebels, and at the same time the rebels have had a very hard time toppling the regime. But the outside world is not prepared for what is happening in Syria.
You are a friend to Italy and to President Monti. How do you see our country?
Admirers of Italy such as myself don’t understand how it’s possible that a country with such a sophisticated economy has had zero growth in ten years. I hope that, in the long term, Mario Monti’s reforms will have a positive effect. Also because Italy has always been one of the most beloved European countries of the English.
You have such an important position with the BBC. How successful is the BBC?
It’s the best public television in the world, is technologically advanced, and it produces wonderful programmes. We have ten television channels and the same number of radio stations. We are watched by 96% of the population and our international programmes are highly successful as well. I am proud of how the BBC covered the recent Olympic Games.
Is there a lot of competition with Sky TV and other channels?
No. We don’t have advertising because everyone pays the television license fee. Sky is especially popular for football, but people mainly watch our programmes.
You are also Chancellor of Oxford University.
I was elected by all of the graduates who have the right to vote. One is elected for life, like the Pope or the Dalai Lama. It’s like being a constitutional monarch who gives speeches and participates in ceremonies. We are one of the top five universities in the world and are especially strong in the humanities, mathematics, and biomedicine. Our professors and students – about twenty thousand of them – come from all over the world. I am proud to have awarded honorary degrees to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Prime Minister Giuliano Amato as well.
What is England’s secret?
My favourite book is Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, especially where he writes that everything needs to change so that everything can stay the same. In many ways, London has become the capital of Europe over the years because it is a cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic city. And it showed this during the Olympic Games.
7th October, 2012