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Hong Kong localism and independence

More clashes at Chinese University over independence posters

Chinese University has become the main battleground of a renewed independence movement in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 September, 2017, 7:20pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 6:49pm

About 10 members of a pro-Beijing group held a protest on Sunday and threatened to tear down independence-themed posters at a space given over to students to express their views at Chinese University in Sha Tin.

The move came two days after the institution’s president Joseph Sung Jao-yiu urged the student union to remove materials advocating separatism as soon as possible or face having the university management take them down.

Chinese University has in recent weeks become the main battleground of a renewed independence movement in the city, after banners and posters with the theme of Hong Kong breaking away from China first appeared about two weeks ago. The identity of those responsible for posting the materials was unclear, but the university’s student union vowed to keep them up to protect free speech.

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Lee Man-yiu, external affairs secretary of the university’s student union, told the Post that he spotted an English-speaking woman tearing down pro-independence posters from the union’s “democracy wall” at around 1.30pm on Sunday. The wall, managed by the union, is intended for students to express their views.

After the act, the woman quickly left in a car with a man, while Lee pasted the posters back up.

About an hour later, around 10 middle aged to elderly people from pro-Beijing group Caring Hong Kong Power approached him at the Cultural Square, inside the university, Lee said, telling him they wanted to take down a banner that read “Hong Kong independence” in Chinese.

“They also tried to paste their posters on the democracy wall, which read ‘This place is China’, on top of the independence-themed posters, but I ... called security to help,” he said.

The union also rallied more students to head there to support Lee, who was the sole student there at the time.

Quarrels took place between the student union members and the pro-Beijing group and there was also some pushing between security and protesters as the latter put up their posters.

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The pro-Beijing group then sat in front of the democracy wall with members of the student union waiting nearby.

Lee Ka-ka, convenor of Caring Hong Kong Power, said the group did not want to confront students but it could not accept them advocating independence, which she said was not only illegal, but also not representative of Hongkongers’ views.

“They have put up these materials for too long, and will not listen to the principal or the school, so we wondered if they needed us Hongkongers to come here to take the posters down?” she asked.

Lee said she needed to discuss whether they would take down the independence-themed materials later in the day.

As of 7pm, both independence-themed and anti-separatism materials still stood at the square and on the wall.

A Chinese University spokeswoman said its security personnel had maintained order during the incident, adding the police were called in to assist with the conflict.

“The university reiterates it does not hope for the campus to become a site for the promotion and mobilisation of different political powers, so as to allow our teachers and staff to have a calm environment to seek knowledge,” she said.

Besides Chinese University, independence-themed materials have also been surfacing on other Hong Kong campuses, including Education University and Polytechnic University.

The incidents led to the heads of the city’s 10 universities issuing a joint statement on Friday to decry “abuses” of freedom of speech on campus, adding they do not support independence for the city, which contravenes the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution.

Student unions of 12 tertiary institutions, including those of seven public universities, responded with a joint statement the next day stressing teachers and students still enjoy the freedom of speech to discuss independence for the city, as protected under Article 27 of the Basic Law.

Chinese University in particular has become a pressure cooker for growing tensions between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese students.

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Scattered quarrels broke out last week when local students tried to stop mainland students putting up posters saying they refused to be represented by the student union above those with an independence theme on the “democracy wall”.

Former Chinese University student union president Ernie Chow Shue-fung was filmed at the site using the derogatory word “Cheena” to refer to China in an argument with mainlanders. But Chow said the mainlanders had also hurled insults.