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China must give Hong Kong leaders room to compromise: former governor

The Hong Kong protests started in opposition to an extradition bill but have morphed into a wider pro-democracy movement (AFP Photo/Anthony WALLACE)

China must give Hong Kong leaders leeway to reach a compromise with protesters or face continued unrest in the city, former governor Chris Patten said on Tuesday.

"In order to have a resolution the Chinese government needs to make it clear that they still believe in the treaty which was signed by Britain," he told AFP, referring to the 1985 agreement that led to Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Under the deal, Hong Kong was allowed to keep its unique freedoms for 50 years.

"(It) is supposed to guarantee Hong Kong's local autonomy and their rule of law and way of life," Patten said in an interview on the sidelines of an event at the Japanese embassy in London.

"The Chinese government, the Communist regime in Beijing, has also to give the authorities in Hong Kong enough room to reach a sensible accommodation and compromise with the demonstrators," he added.

Clashes erupted again in the city at the weekend, ending a relative lull in the intensity of skirmishes between police and pro-democracy protesters.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at hardcore protesters hurling rocks and petrol bombs on Sunday, the latest expression of a popular revolt that has raged for over 100 days.

The protests, the biggest challenge to Beijing's rule since the 1997 handover, began in opposition to a proposed law that could have led to extraditions to mainland China.

It has since spiralled into a broader pro-democracy movement.

Patten, Britain's last governor of the city, said that violence was "never acceptable", but added it had "sometimes been provoked by the way the demonstrations have been policed".

Local gangsters, known as triads, had also "been manipulated in order to beat up demonstrators", he said.

Patten urged the British government to be "outspoken in stating the importance of China living up to its guarantees, up to its word.

"If you can't trust communist China in Hong Kong, where will you trust it?" he added.

Patten was at the Japanese embassy announcing the prestigious Praemium Imperiale awards, with political disorder a common theme among the winning artists.

"I fear that social instability is more resonant now than it has been for some time," he said.

"We can see what's happening in Hong Kong and we can see even in a society like ours growing divisiveness and I think that's profoundly worrying."