Li Keqiang

HKU celebration 'wasn't held just for vice-premier'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2012, 12:00am

Last year's centennial celebrations at the University of Hong Kong were not held in honour of a visiting mainland official, its vice chancellor insists.

The August 18 event was arranged to coincide with Vice-Premier Li Keqiang's visit, but it wasn't held solely because he was in town, vice chancellor Tsui Lap-chee said.

The vice-premier was in Hong Kong not just for the HKU anniversary, so the university had to fit in with his schedule and the ceremony he attended was one of many celebrations held, Tsui and HKU council chairman Leong Che-hung said.

Controversial arrangements for Li's visit to the Pok Fu Lam campus - including a huge police presence blocking key entrances - ultimately overshadowed the university's celebrations, however. A review committee has since found that police used 'unjustifiable' and 'unreasonable' force to contain student protesters in a stairwell.

'HKU hoped that a top official could help us celebrate the centenary, but it would have been impractical for a vice-premier to visit the city solely for this event,' Tsui said. 'When we heard Li would be in Hong Kong in August, the ceremony was scheduled for that time.'

He urged the public not to leap to the conclusion that the event was held just for Li. 'Taken out of context, it could be seen this way, but I don't want people to think that,' he said.

A 150-page report released last week by the university review panel revealed that HKU had less than a month to organise the event after Li's attendance was confirmed.

It also said some academics opposed the university hosting Li at an official ceremony.

The rushed organisation of the event is clear from an August 1 e-mail from Tsui to former Hong Kong governor David Wilson, inviting him to attend and speak at the event.

'I must apologise for the very late and short notice. We were informed of the details of the proposed visit of the mainland leader only a few days ago. (It is obvious that the working style in China mainland is different from ours.) I very much hope that you will be able to accept the invitation despite the short notice,' Tsui wrote.

And on August 10, dean of law Johannes Chan Man-mun remarked in an e-mail to registrar Henry Wai Wing-kun: 'It does not appear obvious to me that we need to have an academic process for this occasion. I hope this is not the idea of the chancellor or his office.'

The report also revealed that student protester Samuel Li Shing-hong - who was confined in a stairwell during Li's visit - had asked Wai's permission to attend the ceremony. Wai's response, by e-mail, said it was only open to students assisting the event and he suggested Li watch it via webcast instead.

Legislator Cheung Man-kwong has criticised the university for trying to ingratiate itself with the rich and powerful, but the review committee in its report found there was no evidence to support this claim.