Li Keqiang

Lessons to learn from HKU flap

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2012, 12:00am


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The controversy surrounding the visit of Vice-Premier Li Keqiang last August has aroused concerns about whether some of our core values have been compromised. Questions have been asked whether the University of Hong Kong sought to curry favour by staging the centennial celebrations during the state leader's visit. Police restrictions on protesters and journalists at the event have also been criticised as excessive. At stake is not just the image of the university and the police. The controversy also touches on academic freedom, the right to demonstrate, as well as press freedom - the cornerstones that set Hong Kong apart from the rest of the region.

Six months after Li's visit, the university and the police have each released its review and suggested a package of recommendations. The university admitted that the arrangements for Li did convey an impression of 'ingratiating itself with the rich and the powerful', although there is no evidence to suggest there were any conscious attempts by anyone to do so. Instead, the impression was attributed to a series of 'bad judgments and administrative blunders'. While vice chancellor Professor Tsui Lap-chee and registrar Henry Wai Wing-kun have been singled out for blame for their misjudgment, the report did not recommend punishment.

In response to a recent newspaper article, Tsui admitted that the centennial ceremony was timed with Li's visit. The schedule has aroused suspicion that the event was only organised for the sake of his visit. It is also baffling to see the state leader given the symbolic seat of power in the middle of the stage - an arrangement deemed inappropriate by the review panel. It is in the university's interest to explain unequivocally why the decisions on the schedule and the seating arrangements are not considered acts of ingratiation.

The university's verdict on the police appears to be harsher. It dismissed accusations that student protesters had been falsely imprisoned by the police, saying they were not barred from leaving the stairwell. But the police had used 'unjustifiable and unreasonable' force to contain the students.

Still, you would expect tight security around a future leader of a major power. Imagine the security restrictions if there were a visit by Barack Obama. The police review merely acknowledged misunderstandings with the university on the security arrangements and that communication with protesters and the media was inadequate. The purpose of a review is to find out what went wrong, identify ways to improve and, if necessary, hold the responsible parties accountable. More importantly, lessons should be learned. The parties concerned should take proactive steps to avoid similar problems in the future.