Editorial: HKU head should be revoked honorary title for suppressing students |Apple Daily Taiwan

2021.05.10
Editorial HKU head should be revoked honorary title for suppressing students Apple Daily Taiwan

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was sentenced on Friday to an additional 10 months in jail for participating in an unauthorized assembly on June 4 last year to commemorate 1989 Beijing’s Tiananmen Square Crackdown. Other activists were also sentenced to terms between four and six months. For the first time, charges and sentences are imposed on those attending June 4 vigil, marking a further step back for Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom.

As of last year, the June 4 candlelight vigil at Victoria Park had taken place for 31 consecutive years even though the political climate in the city quietly changed with the infiltration of Chinese influences. Thousands of candles were lit up at the Park on June 4 annually, a light suggesting the city’s faith in democracy and freedom. But now, even participation in the commemoration may result in charges and jail term. Beijing makes no secret of its evil deeds by intimidating and suppressing the city’s memories.

Following Hong Kong’s turbulent protests in 2019 against new extradition laws, authoritarian China decided to destroy “one country, two systems” for the city, where democracy and freedom saw a consistent decline. Democracy advocates around the world keep speaking out in support of Hong Kong’s democracy. But Hong Kong government and the Beijing regime have turned a deaf year to their rebuke and appeals.

China is acting like, “I am aggressive and assertive, so what? “Democracies across the world cannot feel powerless and do nothing. Instead, they should proactively defend the value of democracy and freedom in every measure they take. On the same day when Joshua Wong was sentenced, a number of groups and lawmakers in Taiwan held a press conference in support of the plea by alumni of the University of Hong Kong, including Alex Chow (周永康), Sunny Cheung (張崑陽)and others. They wrote in an open letter, asking HKU’s vice-chancellor Zhang Xiang (張翔) be stripped of his title of the academician that Taiwan’s Academia Sinica (AS) granted to him in 2012.

Zhang suppressed HKU Students’ Union

Zhang Xiang, a Chinese-born American, is an internationally renowned expert in materials science. His great achievements have won him many honors, including a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, an academician of Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, and others. In 2008, his research on “invisible cloak” was hailed as one of the “top ten scientific discoveries of the year”. But since he was appointed the 16th President and Vice-Chancellor of HKU in 2017, he has never been invisible, explicitly pandering to the Chinese Communist, cracking down on students, and destroying freedom of speech on campus.

During the 2019 movement against the extradition bill, Zhang turned a blind eye to the police violence on students and joined the “Hong Kong Coalition” formed by Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying, former Chief Executives of Hong Kong. The pro-Beijing group extended support for the National Security legislation, regarding the CCP’s destruction of Hong Kong’s autonomy in the name of national security as nothing. Zhang appointed a former committee member of the Chinese Communist Party as HKU’s vice president, sparking fears over the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration and control. Last week, Zhang accused HKU Students’ Union of “becoming increasingly political”. The decision was made to stop collecting membership fees on behalf of the union; to stop providing financial management services for the union; to withdraw the student union’s offices and other facilities. The move is practically killing the student union that has played an important role in Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

There is an anecdote about Hu Shih, the third President of Academia Sinica. At his inauguration ceremony in 1957, the authoritative president Chiang Kai-shek delivered a speech in person. When it was Hu’s turn to speak, he began by saying, “You are wrong, President,” refuting Chiang’s arguments in public, with the audience staring speechless at each other. The anecdote has been passed down and becomes a symbol for the members of Academia Sinica, reminding them of their faith in conscience, freedom and opposition to authoritarian rule.

Zhang’s words and action deviate from AS values

AS is Taiwan’s most preeminent academic institution and its members enjoy a high reputation. As such, their words and action should meet the basic academic and ethical standards. Zhang’s disrespect for academic freedom has suppressed the space for students to confront authoritarianism. Instead, he allows political power to interfere with university autonomy. He fails in every way to meet the basic requirements. Therefore, he is not qualified for the honor granted by AS.

Some may say given the respect for academic freedom, an individual’s political and ideological choice is also a form of freedom, which should be respected as well. In fact, like members’ political views, from the past to today, span the spectrum. Some are pro-China and others advocate Taiwan’s independence. But Zhang’s case is different. As HKU’s president, he has acted like Beijing’s thug and taken a number of specific actions against students. What he did has exceeded way beyond the extent to which freedom of speech should be respected.

Following the questions over Zhang’s qualifications as an academician, AS said the title is a lifelong honor. Any change will be discussed and decided upon according to democratic procedures by its convocation in July. Suppose democracy and freedom are the core values that AS has upheld for more than 90 years. In that case, it is essential to establish an exit mechanism for those who have completely turned against the values so its academic prestige can be maintained. This is not only for Hong Kong but also for Taiwan.

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