Off the mark: Johannes Chan deserves respect, not unwarranted slurs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 5:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 5:28pm

Your columnists Alex Lo and Michael Chugani have subjected the unwary reader to a fairly steady stream of nonsense on the subject of the non-appointment of Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun to a post of pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Hong Kong. I have concluded that most of this is best ignored, but Lo’s column (“Drama at HKU is good entertainment”, December 14) has plumbed new depths, in the form of a totally unwarranted slur on Professor Chan’s character, and therefore requires a response.

Characterising Chan as “passive-aggressive”, Lo implies he supported Benny Tai Yiu-ting’s Occupy Central campaign “regardless of the consequences”. The truth is that Chan never expressed public support for Occupy Central and was actually away from Hong Kong, on sabbatical in the US, when the street protests (precipitated directly by student groups, not Tai) broke out. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Lo goes on to say Chan said he didn’t want the pro-vice-chancellor job. Why then did he stand his ground, despite months of vilification in pro-Chinese newspapers and approaches from shadowy middlemen trying to persuade him to withdraw his candidacy or offer to step down immediately following appointment?

Particularly scurrilous is Lo’s contention that Chan “did everything to provoke students and supporters to fight on his behalf, including [their] storming and detention of council members in July”. There is not a shred of evidence to support such a statement and it should be withdrawn.

All it does is reflect Lo’s general contempt for the intellectual abilities and aspirations of Hong Kong’s young people – a recurrent theme in his columns – and his consequent belief that the students could not possibly have worked out for themselves that the machinations within the HKU council were not just reprehensible in themselves, but posed a long-term threat to academic freedom and the institutional autonomy of the university.

If Lo has not listened to the elegant and measured speech which Professor Chan delivered at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on December 10, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Press Awards, I hope he will belatedly take the trouble to do so. It was neither passive nor aggressive. Rather, it captured the qualities of someone I have been proud to work alongside in the pro-democracy cause for the best part of the last 10 years.

Anson Chan, former chief secretary for administration; convenor, Hong Kong 2020