Hong Kong localism and independence

Hong Kong independence not a realistic option, insists university head

HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson issues statement on controversial issue on behalf of senior management

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2016, 10:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2016, 11:32pm

The city’s oldest university has become the first among tertiary institutions to make an official stand on the question of independence for Hong Kong, following the chief executive’s public rejection of the controversial idea.

University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson spelled it out in a prepared statement he read to the media on Friday at an inauguration ceremony for new students on the Pok Fu Lam campus.

“The senior management’s position on the debate about Hong Kong independence is that it is not a realistic option. More importantly, it would not be in the best interests of the university.”

He was speaking three days after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is also HKU chancellor, declared that independence talk was not a matter of free speech and there was no room for such discussions in schools.

Mathieson, HKU president since 2014, said the 105-year-old institution “is committed to the core principles of ‘one country, two systems, which include the protection of freedom of speech”.

He maintained that institutional autonomy and academic freedom were HKU’s cornerstones, and the campus “must be a place where different opinions can be debated and respected”.

“However freedoms come with responsibilities. There is no place in the university for hatred, offensive language and behaviour, or violence,” he said.

“Members of the university should respect the law and should understand and accept the consequences of their actions.”

Mathieson later told reporters: “Within the parameters we set out, we encourage the freedom of speech on all issues no matter how sensitive they are.”

He also clarified that his statement did not involve the Chief Executive’s Office and was not on the agenda for next Tuesday’s governing council meeting.

Last week, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim made it clear after meeting his counterparts in Beijing that independence advocacy should not be allowed in schools as it violated the Basic Law and the one-country, two-systems principle.

He said he would leave it to teachers and principals to supervise discussions, while his bureau earlier warned that teachers could be disqualified for encouraging such talk.

Chinese University vice-chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu told the media last week that the campus should embrace academic freedom, although he personally objected to the idea of independence for Hong Kong.

Speaking at the ceremony on Friday, HKU student union president Althea Suen Hiu-nam insisted that free discussion – including about independence – should not be banned on campus.

“Hong Kong is not China and any discussion on Hong Kong’s prospects should be encouraged and not prohibited,” she said.

“Discussion of Hong Kong independence should never be a taboo,” she said.