Former Hong Kong Governor Rips Chinese Intelligence, Has Warning for Washington

‘They do have a strong interest in embarrassing America,’ Chris Patten says Beijing.

AP/Andy Wong
President Xi at the Great Hall of the People at Beijing, October 23, 2022. As Chris Patten sees it, Xi is playing an ambiguous game but with at least one clear objective, which is to ensure the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. AP/Andy Wong

Lest there be any doubt about the power of the fourth estate, it took only one innocuous survey floated by a cable television pundit to get everyone talking about Ukraine again — after a very brief lull. Yet while presumed Republican contenders in the 2024 presidential race spar over what constitute vital American interests around the world, and ahead of Beijing’s anticipated upcoming outreach to President Zelensky, some strong views of more seasoned foreign policy types are taking shape.

These include that of the highly respected last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who in 1997 closed out more than a century of British rule when the former Crown colony was finally handed over to Communist China. In an interview published in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Mr. Patten, now a British life peer, warned that “Beijing does not want to be an accomplice of the Kremlin, but wants to undermine the United States.”

As Mr. Patten sees it, Xi Jinping is playing an ambiguous game but with at least one clear objective, which is to ensure the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. “On the one hand [the Chinese] say Putin is their best friend, but on the other hand they are incredibly nervous about being seen as his accomplices: so they have to walk a tightrope,” he said, adding that “complicity can take many forms: while they don’t want to be seen as too open in their support of Russia, they do have a strong interest in embarrassing America, dividing it from Europe, and undermining America’s position in the world.”

His view did not go quite as far as that of a young Republican presidential candidate also included in a recent Fox News survey on Ukraine policy, Vivek Ramaswamy. As he sees it, “China wants the Ukraine war to last as long as possible to deplete Western military capacity before invading Taiwan.” According to Mr Ramaswamy, “It’s working: we think we appear stronger by helping Ukraine, but we actually become weaker vis-à-vis China.”

There is little doubt though that Mr. Patten knows China better than most American politicians. That is why his criticism not only of Chinese intentions but capabilities is also noteworthy. The latter are less inscrutable than Beijing might like to project. He described Beijing’s flub in not foretelling Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago as “a huge intelligence failure on their part.”

The Chinese, Mr. Patten said, “must be very concerned about their intelligence interpretation of what was about to happen in Ukraine: they must have had good intelligence, but the fact that they weren’t able to interpret it like the CIA did and give an indication of what would happen with the Russian invasion is in itself a real weakness.”

The Chinese leader is gearing up for a trip to Moscow to visit Mr. Putin next week, and as the Wall Street Journal reported, he is expected to phone President Zelensky shortly thereafter. The Ukrainian leader has few reasons to be overly optimistic about any communication with President Xi, however. 

As for Mr. Putin, Mr. Patten described the Russian strongman as “one of the most unpleasant people I have ever met” and “an evil man” who, among other things, “was responsible for the KGB’s funding of the Baader-Meinhof gang.” Xi Jinping’s record on human rights and brooking dissenting views, though the former governor did not explicitly say it, is equally abysmal, if not worse. 

Between Chinese duplicity and Russian belligerence, where does that leave American policy with respect to Ukraine in the lengthy run-up to a presidential election? Without much of a compass. 

If “the Biden administration are the ones who got us into this mess” with respect to Ukraine, as President Trump said in his survey response, it is also not clear who, or what, will pull “us” out of it — at least while the two sides in eastern Ukraine are still fighting.

All the kinds of disruption that the Chinese have in mind are not yet known, but when Mr. Patten says that “they are not granting that this war was started by Russia,” he means it. Mr. Jinping may have a smooth flight to Moscow next week, but expect pervasive turbulence to follow. 

The New York Sun

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