Hong Kong localism and independence

University of Hong Kong will not pursue students who hung up pro-independence banners on China National Day, president says

Peter Mathieson says institution believes in freedom of speech but students must respect rules and regulations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 8:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 10:47pm

The University of Hong Kong will not pursue the students who hung pro-independence banners around campus without permission on National Day, president and vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson said.

The professor explained the conciliatory approach by saying he and the institution believed in freedom of speech, but at the same time issued a warning to students to respect the rules and regulations of the 105-year-old university.

The head of the city’s most prestigious place of learning made the remarks after banners saying “Hong Kong Independence” sprung up at eight universities, including HKU and Chinese University, across the city during National Day on Saturday.

The Hong Kong National Party, a pro-independence group led by young people, admitted it had provided the banners, but insisted students had taken the initiative to pin them up.

HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson placed in tough spot by the very students he champions

“The university has made its position clear on the issue of Hong Kong independence. We believe in freedom of speech and we also believe in respect for rules and regulations,” Mathieson said on Monday after attending an event promoting healthy lifestyles.

“Regarding banners, we have a process at the university where students can get permission to hang them,” he said. “I think these particular banners hadn’t been through that process and so they were taken down at HKU, as I think they were at all the universities.”

The institution would not be tracking down those who hung them, he said.

In August, Mathieson read a prepared statement to the media spelling out the university’s position on the issue of independence. He said it was not a realistic option and would not be in the best interests of HKU.

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Those remarks came amid growing discontent among young people with the city’s political status quo. Many said the “one country, two systems” formula had been damaged and independence was the only way out.

On Monday, Mathieson said he wanted students to be able to express themselves, but that they needed to do so in the context of what was permissible under the law and responsible.

Asked what the government should do to respond to growing discontent among the young, he said it was not for him to tell officials what to do.

“We recognise there are differences of opinion in Hong Kong. We reflect those in the university, our staff and alumni. So I think debates on contentious issues are always healthy but should always be done in a responsible way, without violence, without breaking the law,” he said.

Meanwhile, New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee met Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Monday. Leung was said to be seeking Ip’s opinions for his last policy address before his current term expires next year.

Ip told Leung he should address the issue of independence before support grows stronger.