Free to differ

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2012, 12:00am

The high-profile censure by an official at the central government's liaison office of a survey on Hong Kong identity has raised concerns of political interference in academic freedom. Adding to the worry, Hao Tiechuan's criticism of the University of Hong Kong survey as being unscientific was followed with attacks by pro-Beijing publications on outspoken academics.

Meanwhile, Kong Qingdong, a Peking University professor, insulted Hong Kong people by calling them dogs of British imperialism. His comments sparked widespread outrage in Hong Kong and scores of local residents protested outside the liaison office, denouncing Kong. The Liberal Party even wrote to the university's president to demand that Kong be sanctioned for his disgraceful behaviour.

As Martin Lee Chu-ming recently wrote in a magazine column, Hao, as a senior mainland official in Hong Kong, is not an ordinary member of the local community, and hence his criticism of local academics will almost certainly be perceived as a form of political pressure from Beijing.

By contrast, Kong's comments, no matter how exceedingly unpleasant and provocative, were only his personal views. He was simply exercising his freedom of expression. His views do not represent those of all mainland people, and thus there's no need to go all out bashing Kong and calling the university to sanction him. Punishing Kong would be a form of academic interference. Since we strongly advocate freedom of speech, we must allow the expression of diverse views.

Freedom of speech and freedom of pluralistic expression should always take priority. We must uphold these freedoms and the rule of law as our city's success depends on whether we can safeguard these core values.

French historian and philosopher Voltaire's belief in these freedoms was perfectly summed up in these words: 'I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

Reacting to Kong's comments only indirectly legitimises them. Similarly, Hao's comments shouldn't have any far-reaching or meaningful consequences, either.

If we truly believe in democracy and are determined to fight for it, we shouldn't be scared of criticism. The truth will come out eventually. As for the academics who have been wrongly accused, they should defend themselves and uphold the integrity of their works and views.

The latest incidents have indisputably exposed long-standing political, social and cultural differences between Hong Kong and the mainland, and conflicts are rapidly worsening. But we should not be frightened by them, and definitely should not exaggerate the problem.

Hong Kong and the mainland have much to offer each other. We must work together because that's our future. Hong Kong people must have an open and accommodating attitude to accept differences and diverse views. Otherwise, we would risk stifling the city's growth and development, and destroying our future.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.



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