The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) appointment of two mainland Chinese scholars as vice presidents of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) sparked widespread protests in Hong Kong. The governing council of HKU confirmed the appointment of Max Shen Zuojun and Gong Peng as vice presidents.
Max Shen was previously listed as a member of a CCP committee at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. This appointment of mainland scholars to head the university has raised concerns among students and alumni groups. They view this as a “take-over” of the island’s top university by the CCP.
University of Hong Kong Students’ Union president Edy Jeh said in a statement: “This action by the council is tantamount to declaring the end of HKU’s institutional autonomy and academic freedom. I could never have imagined that this day would come after just three years at the University of Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong protests
Hong Kong has a separate governing system and economic system than mainland China. It ranks fourth on the United Nations Human Development Index. The 7.5 million residents of Hong Kong enjoy more freedom than mainland citizens as Chinese national law is not applicable to the region.
Earlier, surveys from HKU showed that most people identify themselves as “Hong Kongers” — only 11 percent would call themselves “Chinese,” and 71 percent of the people say they do not feel proud about being Chinese citizens.
China has been trying to impose restrictions on Hong Kong. The introduction of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill by the Hong Kong government, which allows for extradition to jurisdictions in mainland China, triggered the Anti-Extradition Movement. This was due to the concerns that Hong Kong residents and visitors would be exposed to the legal system of mainland China. China was forced to repeal the bill due to heavy protests against undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and infringing on civil liberties. Later, the CCP reintroduced these provisions to curtail the rights of Hong Kong people through the Hong Kong National Security Law. Protests and subsequent crackdowns have been going on since then.
University of Hong Kong
Pro-democracy protests against the CCP were strongest at HKU. Universities were strongholds of young protesters who are the core of the anti-China movements. Police suppressed the protesters aggressively on many occasions. Violent clashes and prolonged standoffs at a university campus were often seen.
The new announcement is aimed to curb this politicization of the campus, which is a threat to Chinese aspirations. The University of Hong Kong Students’ Union submitted a petition in front of the council meeting, with 4,200 signatures, opposing Gong and Shen’s appointments. They also called for full disclosure of candidates’ selection criteria and previous listings on CCP committees.