Arthur Li adds fuel to the fire at University of Hong Kong

Instead of waiting a few days after protest before meeting students, HKU’s new council chairman has refocused public attention on him rather than his foes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 1:58am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 2:59pm

Arthur Li Kwok-cheung is a fighter. His natural instinct is to confront his antagonists. And that is exactly what the new council chairman of the University of Hong Kong is doing by denouncing student protesters and pan-democratic politicians who allegedly goaded them on.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is also like that. Which is why he handpicked Li to head the council after the failed tenure of Dr Leong Che-hung, a conciliatory and honourable man who was trapped between the intransigence of student and staff leaders on the one hand and that of the leftist press on the other.

Li’s suitability for the job is in question. If his goal is to contain and roll back campus radicalism, he has just added more fuel to it. Many Hong Kong people, including yours truly, were turned off by the student protesters. Li could have waited a few days before meeting the students, during which time plenty of public criticism would no doubt come forth against the students’ mob mentality. But Li called a press conference the next day and made HKU chief Peter Mathieson sit beside him. I just felt sorry for Mathieson, who has so far managed to remain on relatively good terms with the student radicals. But after the chaos this week, and his open denunciation of their mob antics, he has evidently picked a side.

Instead of playing good cop, bad cop, now you just have two bad cops. They didn’t host the event on campus, but at the Bankers’ Club. That shows:

1. HKU’s two top leaders can’t hold meetings on their own turf.

2. The location just draws attention to Li’s privileged and elitist background.

The press meeting, in which Li directed his venom against his own students and the Civic Party, simply refocused public attention on his own immoderation than that of his foes. No, Prof Li, the students weren’t on drugs. I wish they were, which might have made them more fun-loving and peaceful people.

Rather, they, and their supporters, suffer from an excess of self-righteousness, fighting for abstract principles like academic freedom which scarely affect them. That’s why their demands are virtually unlimited because their idealism is unbounded.

Good teachers know how to channel such idealism in their students towards worthy lifelong pursuits. Li is just channelling all their anger at himself.