Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday urged university students and management to speak up against those advocating Hong Kong independence on campuses, as she condemned youngsters using school events as an opportunity to promote “absurd” separatist ideas.
“In recent years, there has been an unhealthy trend in saying that Hong Kong can be independent, Hong Kong can determine its own future, Hong Kong can be separated from China – I feel heartbroken by such statements,” the city’s leader said.
She singled out students who were using “their status as members of student unions’ executive councils, and the occasion of the first day of school” to spread what she described as untrue statements.
“I hope university authorities and students, if they see anything that is not right or any actions that are not legal, they will speak up. Do not think that the issue will just go away,” Lam said.
Lam spoke in the morning, before Baptist University held an event to welcome more than 2,000 new local and international undergraduates to its Kowloon Tong campus.
The student union’s acting president Ken Lui Lok-hei did not mention independence, but gave a fiery six-minute speech criticising the government for telling students they could not voice out “anti-Chinese government” views.
He compared that with Taiwan’s White Terror massacre of anti-government protesters in 1947 under nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, and urged students to “challenge the authorities”.
“I think the first step [to safeguard Hong Kong’s future] is to get a clear understanding of our identity – we are Hongkongers,” he said.
He later told reporters that Lam’s comments were “quite ridiculous” as any discussion of Hong Kong independence or politics still constituted free speech.
Last week at Education University’s ceremony to mark the start of the new academic year, the president of the student union’s provisional executive council, Cheung Yam, said: “Independence is the only way to build a place truly based on the interests of Hongkongers.”
On Monday, student leaders at Chinese University’s inauguration ceremony insisted they had a right to discuss the city’s sovereignty, even as two top officials cautioned students against separatist talk, dismissing such discussions as “pointless”.
Lam on Tuesday said students advocating independence were violating the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” governing principle, which guarantees a degree of autonomy for the city.
“We will not tolerate any [comments] that have an impact on this basic policy direction – or the ‘bottom line’ mentioned by President Xi Jinping on July 1 last year,” she said.
The city’s mini-constitution states that Hong Kong is an “inalienable part” of China, and the president used his speech during a landmark visit to the city last year to issue a tough message to separatists.
Lam pledged the government would handle any violation of the Basic Law “in accordance with the law”.
She also said she had heard foreign visitors she hosted express “negative views” about Hong Kong’s youth, with many of them under the impression that youngsters supported separation from China. Creating such an impression was “unfair to other students”, Lam said.
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Banners and posters with messages advocating separatist ideas have been put up on university campuses in recent years, sparking verbal clashes. Last year, former Chinese University president Joseph Sung Jao-yiu led nine other tertiary institutions in releasing a joint statement saying they did not support independence.
Lam said such incidents put pressure on university presidents who “love and care” about their students, but who might not wish to be harshly critical of their antics.
Baptist University on Tuesday did not print Lui’s speech in full in its programme booklet, dropping the portions where he referred to Taiwan’s White Terror massacre and his description of Mandarin as a “foreign language not commonly used in Hong Kong”.
A university spokesperson said Lui was told that due to space constraints, only a truncated version of his remarks would be printed though he could still give his full speech.
“The university respects freedom of speech and will not interfere with the union president’s speech,” the spokesman added.
Earlier this year, the university punished three students through suspensions and community service orders for being among a group who stormed the university’s language centre in January.
In an eight-hour stand-off with staff, they demanded management scrap a Mandarin proficiency requirement for all graduating students and called for greater transparency in an exemption test.
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