The new head of the Chinese University of Hong Kong touted the official line of “rational and peaceful discussion” in response to questions on independence advocacy in the city at his first official meeting with the media, which lasted for a mere 15 minutes on Wednesday morning. Rocky Tuan Sung-chi, who assumed the post of vice chancellor at the university on Monday , gave a speech of about 14 minutes and answered three questions – which took less than two minutes – before being escorted into a lift in a hasty exit. In his speech, Tuan vowed to serve the university as an “open-minded and respectful” principal. Chinese University new head seems the perfect choice, so why are his detractors up in arms? Asked whether he would order the removal of banners and posters advocating Hong Kong’s separation from China if they appeared on campus again, Tuan said sensible discussions and respect for disparity must be preserved while defending free speech and academic autonomy. “Freedom of research and speech are the fundamental and core values of the university, which we will definitely defend and strengthen. Meanwhile, I do hope that discussions can be conducted in a rational and peaceful way,” Tuan said. “We must respect others’ ideas. And the university has a clear stance and procedures [to handle the banners].” At the beginning of the last semester during the term of Tuan’s predecessor, Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, a number of banners and posters advocating independence were put up in a square managed by the university’s student union, triggering heated debates that quickly swelled into citywide rows. The controversy prompted the heads of eight public universities, including Sung, to issue a joint statement condemning Hong Kong independence as an idea contravening the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and emphasising that free speech had limits. Students threaten to escalate action after pro-Beijing professor set to be reappointed at Hong Kong university On Wednesday, Tuan did not respond to questions on whether he would continue to honour the joint statement as the new leader of the university. Hong Kong-born Tuan, a world-leading biomedical scientist, said his “No 1 mission” was to better prepare students and scholars of the university to face challenges brought by swift developments in the 21st century while preserving the humanity spirits and liberal arts education in the university’s tradition. “The mission of the university is ‘to combine tradition with modernity, and to bring together China and the West’. This is the reason I came back to my birthplace and took this job,” Tuan said. He said he had started to arrange meetings with the university’s teaching staff and would “have plenty of chances” to meet students in the following months.