Hong Kong's Chinese University Postpones PLA Trip Amid Student Protest

2015-05-07
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A poster protests a planned visit by PLA officers to the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus, saying it would pose a direct threat to academic freedom, May 7, 2015.
A poster protests a planned visit by PLA officers to the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus, saying it would pose a direct threat to academic freedom, May 7, 2015.
RFA

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, scene of the first major pro-democracy rally that kicked off a 79-day Occupy Central campaign in the former British colony, has postponed a planned visit from the Chinese military after vocal opposition from students, it said.

Calls have been growing among students at the university to cancel the event, which critics said was "inappropriate" in run-up to the sensitive anniversary of the 1989 bloodshed, when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) ended several weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests with machine guns and tanks.

"Please be informed that the mutual visit and recreational event with the PLA Hong Kong garrison scheduled for May 8, 2015 has been postponed," the Chinese University of Hong Kong said in a statement on its website.

It said such visits between university students, who are invited on a tour of the PLA barracks, and Chinese soldiers, who have visited all of Hong Kong's universities, had been going on since 2007.

"This year, members of the PLA Hong Kong garrison were to have visited ... for communication and networking with students, as well as ball-games of various sorts and a tour of the campus," the statement said.

"But in view of the fact that some people appear to have misunderstood the original intent of the activity, after mutual consultations between the PLA Hong Kong garrison and the university, we have decided to postpone it," it said.

Starting point of suffrage protests

Thousands of Hong Kong students converged on the Chinese University of Hong Kong, known colloquially as the Chinese U, on Sept. 22 at the start of a week-long boycott of classes in protest at Beijing's decision to limit electoral reforms.

Some 13,000 students crowded into the main concourse of the university on the first day of the strike, not far from a permanent replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue raised by protesting students in Tiananmen Square before the movement was crushed by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in June 1989.

For many, the statue gives a focus to the role played by the Chinese University in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, sparked last year by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's rejection of public nominations of candidates in the 2017 elections for the city's next leader.

A student surnamed Hui said the PLA's presence on campus was "inappropriate" ahead of the anniversary of the military crackdown on 1989 protesters that left, hundreds, possibly thousands, dead or maimed.

"The Chinese U campus is a democratic place, and June 4 is approaching," the student said. "The PLA carries a lot of the responsibility for the June 4, 1989 incident."

"The PLA should have no connection with universities, not under the banner of so-called unity or friendship," Hui said.

"Chinese U students don't welcome them."

Hui rejected the university's argument that the PLA has carried out similar activities in Hong Kong since 2007.

"This is the Chinese U, and the other universities are different. Here at the Chinese U, we students have our own principles," Hui said.

A second student surnamed Cheng said the PLA's image in the eyes of students is a poor one, and that the trip was liable to be manipulated by pro-Beijing media.

"I don't want to see any reports about Chinese U students happily meeting with PLA soldiers," Cheng said. "The university has postponed the trip rather than canceling it, which is OK."

"At least the university is listening to the student voice, and has acted accordingly."

Meanwhile, Hui said students planned to continue their protest against any rescheduling of the visit.

"We don't want such activities to happen here, not in a few days, not in a few weeks," Hui said.

Since the Occupy movement, the Hong Kong government has tabled a set of electoral reforms that would prevent any publicly nominated candidates from running for chief executive, while pan-democratic politicians have vowed to veto the package when it is put to the vote in the city's legislature next month.

"This is the most crucial moment we have faced since the Umbrella Movement ended," Daisy Chan, convenor of the pro-democratic Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front, told a local radio show on Thursday. "We mustn't slack off now."

Keep up pressure on legislation

She called on supporters to keep up the pressure on the government around the time of the debate and vote in the Legislative Council (LegCo).

"We should be having rallies and live broadcasts of the speeches given by delegates, because no other form of action will induce LegCo to cooperate with us," Chan said. "This is a simple and direct method."

But she said her group and others campaigning for universal suffrage hadn't yet formulated their strategy.

"We are open to suggestions from other organizations ... who may feel that a large gathering is too boring, and who may prefer to add other ingredients to the mix," she said.

Beijing officials styled the student-led Occupy Central movement an "illegal protest," and have publicly hit out at any suggestion of a "Hong Kong identity," saying it is tantamount to discussing independence for the city.

But opinion surveys have shown that a relatively small proportion of Hong Kong residents—just 17 percent in 2012—identify themselves as "Chinese," with a larger proportion describing themselves as "Hong Kong people," or "Hong Kong Chinese."

Officials have called for the re-introduction of Communist Party-backed "patriotic education" in the territory's schools, a plan that sparked mass protests before being shelved in 2012, citing concern over a lack of patriotic feeling among Hong Kong's young people.

A Beijing-backed company has also moved to take control of more than 80 percent of the publishing industry in Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and the continuation of its existing freedoms under the terms of the city's 1997 handover to China.

Clause 14 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, states that the PLA garrison must not interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong, although the city's government may request military assistance to maintain public order or to deal with disasters.

Many Occupy protesters have said they weren't just fighting for public nominations, but against the steady erosion of the city's core values and freedoms, citing a slew of violent attacks on outspoken Hong Kong journalists in recent years.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Dai Weisen for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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