Hong Kong independence rears its head again on university campus, as union leader candidates grilled on views
- Trio had complained about a televised interview portraying them as indifferent to last year’s ban on a pro-independence political party
- But on Monday they noted ‘Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China’
The trio running to lead the student union at Hong Kong’s oldest university were grilled on their political stances on Monday, in another campus controversy over the city’s independence.
The three students, who called themselves Prism, braved the chill wind in an open square for two hours. They answered questions from a group of more than a hundred students, a day after complaining of a smear campaign portraying them in a televised interview as indifferent to last year’s ban on a political party and a string of disqualifications from the Legislative Council.
But, rather than clearly refuting that stance, they said they respected those decisions, while maintaining city residents should have a say on its future.
They are the only candidates for the executive committee of the University of Hong Kong’s student union, which represents more than 16,000 undergraduates. If they fail to get enough votes, HKU will become the sixth of the city’s eight public universities with a vacuum in student leadership.
Asked their opinions on Hong Kong-mainland relations, and on the city’s future after the “one country two systems” principle is set to expire in 2047, science student Cheng Chun-hei, the proposed union president, said: “The relation between Hong Kong and China is like the relation between Hong Kong and other nearby countries. There are insoluble links of geography and economy.
“I tend to support Hongkongers having the right to decide the city’s future.”
But Cheung Shun-yat, the proposed internal vice-president, said later that he respected the Hong Kong government’s decision to disqualify lawmakers and election candidates who advocated independence and self-determination.
“We have made it clear in the [interview] that we respect the decision to disqualify [those members of] the Legislative Council,” he said.
He went on: “Hongkongers should have the right to decide their own future, but we shouldn’t do anything only because we are angry with some things done by China. We should look at the big picture.”
Cheung dodged a question on the possible options for self-determination but explained that the “big picture” had much to do with the city’s economic connections with mainland China, from his point of view as a “pragmatic economics student”.
He said if Hongkongers do not advocate independence there will be many possible scenarios for them to choose from.
“Because Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. It’s written in the Basic Law. To change that would be to abandon so many rights and privileges that we are enjoying as Hong Kong citizens,” he said.
“We should be able to determine our future but just, maybe, we should lay off a bit on [the issue of independence].”
The question and answer session was the first of five during the week-long annual central campaign.
Monday’s forum came a day after Prism claimed to be victims of a smear, in a public response to criticism of their interview with student TV station Campus TV.
In the interview, broadcast on Saturday, the trio said they did not have much “doubt or opposition” towards the government’s ban of the separatist HKNP. And they “didn’t hold any particular opinion” on disqualifications of lawmakers and Legislative Council candidates for their advocacy of Hong Kong independence and self-determination.
Prism declined to take questions from the media after the forum.