HONG KONG - China's ambassador to Britain has branded London's last colonial governor of Hong Kong an irresponsible "hypocrite" for his recent criticism of a lack of democracy in the global financial hub.
In a letter to the conservative Daily Telegraph newspaper on Tuesday, ambassador Liu Xiaoming said Hong Kong must never be allowed to become an obstacle to improving Sino-British ties, despite the "flawed" arguments of Chris Patten.
Noting that Britain did "nothing" in more than 150 years of colonial rule to encourage democracy in Hong Kong, Liu wrote:"It is therefore the rankest hypocrisy of people such as Lord Patten to criticise China for any perceived failings to introduce democracy".
He added, "Democracy will come to Hong Kong naturally. It is the outcome of the region's social progress."
Beijing last month ruled out fully-democratic elections for Hong Kong's leader in 2017, sparking a political showdown with the free-wheeling city's democratic camp.
Beijing said it would allow a city-wide vote for the first time, but candidates would first have to be approved by nominating committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists.
Describing such vetting as Iranian-style democracy, Patten wrote in the Financial Times newspaper that it was a matter of British honour and obligation to ensure Hong Kong's full freedoms were respected for 50 years as promised when he handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule in 1997.
"We have a huge stake in the well-being of Hong Kong, with a political system in balance with its economic freedom," he wrote.
Britain's moral and political obligations to Hong Kong overrode any commercial consequences of angering Beijing, Patten added.
Liu called Patten's views "anachronistic and unhelpful" and"irresponsible", saying he had never understood China.
"Given Lord Patten's reputation, it is saddening to note that his judgment is so flawed, just as it was when he was in his Hong Kong role."
Liu's letter follows repeated recent criticism from China's Foreign Ministry at foreign "interference" in the country's internal affairs, including from a British parliamentary inquiry into the lack of democratic progress in Hong Kong.