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Large black banners bearing the words “Hong Kong independence” in Chinese and English appeared on Chinese University campus as the new school year kicked off earlier this month. Photo: Felix Wong

Student union removes Hong Kong independence banner – but warns it may come back

Chinese University student union accused school of having double standards as it had not called for banner saying ‘Oppose Article 23’ to be removed

A student union at a Hong Kong university removed a controversial banner on Thursday that called for the city to break away from China, six days after calls from the institution’s president to take it down.

But the union warned it would display the same banner again if Chinese University failed to hold talks with teachers and students to set out clear rules regarding using the space at the Cultural Square

– an area on the campus managed by the student union where the sign was put up.

Announcing its decision on Facebook on the same day before the removal, the union said their decision was not prompted by the university president Joseph Sung Jao-yiu’s demand to take down the banner.

A banner opposing Article 23 is still hanging at Chinese University. Photo: Dickson Lee

Sung had reiterated the institution’s stance against such advocacy last week.

The union admitted that no organisation had filed an application or sought proper approval for hanging that banner and that it would be unreasonable to keep it displayed at Cultural Square, a space designated for students, amid a stalemate in negotiations with school staff.

Banner row has Hong Kong entering the post-truth era

Posters with the independence theme, which had appeared at the same time as earlier banners, were still left on the “democracy wall” at the square, however.

In a Facebook post, the group accused the school of having “double standards” over the handling of the banner bearing the words “Hong Kong Independence”.

It said the school had not spoken out against another banner with the words “Oppose Article 23”, which had been on display for days, but demanded instant removal of the former, a decision they called “political vetting”.

Chinese University president Joseph Sung said no organisation had filed an application or sought proper approval for hanging the banner calling for Hong Kong independence. Photo: David Wong
Hong Kong is required, under Article 23 of its mini-constitution, to enact laws against treason, sedition and subversion, but the government has yet to initiate the process after the first attempt met with strong opposition from the public in 2003.

“During our communication in the past few days, the school has lacked sincerity and kept asking students to back down while failing to make concrete promises on freedom of speech,” the student union said.

A spokesman for the university said they were delighted to see the banner removed and would continue to communicate with the student union regarding the rules on using the Cultural Square.

Carrie Lam backs universities removing independence banners

The debate was reignited after at least three large black banners bearing the words “Hong Kong Independence” in Chinese and English appeared in the university in Sha Tin as the new school year kicked off earlier this month.

School staff quickly removed the signs, provoking a strong backlash among students.

More banners calling for separatism surfaced at the University of Hong Kong, City University, Polytechnic University, Education University and Shue Yan University within days.

Posters on Chinese University’s ‘democracy wall’. Photo: Felix Wong

Another pro-independence banner was then put up at Chinese University following the row. This was the one that the union finally removed on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Bernard Chan, convener of the Executive Council – which advises the city’s leader on policies – differed from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on the issue of Hong Kong independence.

“I personally think there is room for discussion. The purpose is not to advocate independence, but to explain why it cannot be done and why it is not in the best interest of Hong Kong,” Chan said on Thursday.

We should not run away from this issue and pretend it is not out there
Bernard Chan, Exco convener
Lam had earlier said there was “no room for any discussion” on the matter.

“We should bring the students back into a healthy discussion ... we should not run away from this issue and pretend it is not out there,” Chan said, adding that the talks had to be handled carefully so as not to give students the impression that independence was a practical solution.

He said the banner at Chinese University was merely a slogan but not a discussion, yet the question of whether it should be removed should be left for university management to decide.

Chan also said the government had to address why students were so unhappy, but he attributed one of the reasons to the fast integration on social and economic levels between Hong Kong and mainland China over the years.

Asked about lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu’s claims that pro-independence activists should be “killed”, Chan said any radical comments would only escalate tensions in society and served no benefit to the city.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Students give in and remove banner urging independence